We are all on a quest. It is 1945, Early Auden is searching for his brother, thought to have been killed in France in World War II. John (Jackie) Baker III, uprooted from his land-locked Kansas home and relocated to coastal Maine soon after his mother died of cancer, is searching for redemption because he wasn’t at home when she died and he was supposed to take care of her in his father’s absence.
Early and Jackie meet at the Morton Hill Academy boarding school. Jackie’s first sight of Early is on the beach as Early is filling sandbags and piling them up. Early being a loner and Jackie being new to the school, it is an interesting fit.
When Jackie’s Naval father can’t make it to school to pick him up for Fall break, Jackie decides to accompany Early on a real quest, rather than be alone at school for a week. Interspersed with the journey is Early’s fascination with Pi and the thought that numbers in this equation might disappear, thus introducing the possibility that it is a finite vs. infinite number. Early sees Pi as more than merely numbers. It has color and shape and texture and he has created a story based on his vision, much of which plays out on their journey.
Although I’m not a fan of the phrase ‘coming of age’, Clare Vanderpool has written a fascinating story about two boys and many other characters that learn the truth about themselves and their worlds. There’s the ancient Mrs. Johannsen, waiting 50 years for her son to come home from the woods and the pirate MacScott carrying around his own burden. There is Gunnar, the woodsman, who has lost his way and his love because of one act. There is Jackie’s father who has divorced himself from memories of his wife. And there is Early and Jackie, two of the most likeable characters you’re likely to meet in a very long time.
Ms. Vanderpool’s Ackowledgement explains the ‘story behind the story’ and is worth reading.
The words. The story. The characters. I wouldn’t change a word of Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early. It is certainly in contention for one of the 10 Best Books of 2013..and it’s ‘early’ in the year…pun intended.