2015 Rebecca Caudill Roundup: Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Navigating-Early-198x300Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool is a challenging Caudill nominee that is definitely most appropriate for the older student readers, mainly due to its complexity.

Shortly after World War II and the death of his mother, Jack Baker is uprooted from his Kansas home and sent by his Naval officer father to live at a boarding school in Maine. There he befriends Early Auden, a misfit of a boy who has a penchant for numbers and a drive to find his brother, Fisher, a soldier who was declared dead in the war. In Vanderpool’s author’s note she says that by today’s standards we would say that Early has a high-functioning form of autism.

On a school break, the two boys head out on a quest to track a great Appalachian Bear, but not really. It is really about Early searching for his lost brother and recounting tales of the journey of Pi (the number), and about Jack dealing with his own loss and grief.

This book is intricately plotted and has truly beautiful language. There is so much loss, grief, and regret in this story, and Vanderpool encourages the reader to think about it all, rather than push an agenda or teach a lesson. Each character is carrying a heavy burden, and each in his or her own way.

Despite my admiration for its literary merit and the fact that I really wanted to love the book, I do have to admit that it does not rank among my favorites on the list. I know that the book has elements of magical realism and that, as such, it demands some suspension of disbelief. However, there were too many coincidences for my taste–everyone Jack and Early met on their journey tied into the master plan that allowed Early to find his brother. But I think it was Gunnar’s connection to Miss B., the librarian, that bothered me the most–that one last connection seemed to too neatly wrap it all up in the end. Ultimately, I am glad to have read the book, but I think Vanderpool might have taken things a little too far–as far as Early tried to take the digits of Pi.

That said, I am determined to find some junior high readers with whom the book would truly resonate. Rather than booktalk it to an entire class, I feel that recommending Navigating Early to individuals would be the best choice. Perhaps fans of Sharon Creech and Gary D. Schmidt would be most likely to appreciate a book such as this one.

Other 2015 Rebecca Caudill Reading Roundup Posts

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