Release Date: January 8th, 2013
Genre: Middle-grade, historical
Summary from Goodreads: At the end of World War II, Jack Baker, a landlocked Kansas boy, is suddenly uprooted after his mother’s death and placed in a boy’s boarding school in Maine. There, Jack encounters Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as a story and collects clippings about the sightings of a great black bear in the nearby mountains.
Newcomer Jack feels lost yet can’t help being drawn to Early, who won’t believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the Great Appalachian Bear, Timber Rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as The Fish, who never returned from the war. When the boys find themselves unexpectedly alone at school, they embark on a quest on the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear.
But what they are searching for is sometimes different from what they find. They will meet truly strange characters, each of whom figures into the pi story Early weaves as they travel, while discovering things they never realized about themselves and others in their lives.
Review: Everyone that reads my blog/reviews regularly knows that this is not the type of book I usually read. But I’ve been wanting to read more award winners, and though this book has not won an award yet, the author has won a Newbery for her other book. This was her second novel, and I found the blurb fascinating, so I went ahead and requested it for review. I’m always trying to review more middle-grade books too because most of the ones I have read I have adored.
This book was wonderful. It is written in a completely simple style with a voice that feels exactly like a pre-teen boy. It is fresh and new and original and everything I am always looking for in a book. If you have sons and daughters (but especially sons because I think this book will particularly resonate with them), PLEASE give them this book.
Early Auden was just such a special, special character. I can’t tell you much about his quirks or his personality, not because it is a spoiler, but really because I think it is something best discovered by the reader. He is unusual, hilarious, and endearing. I completely fell for who he is and the person he grew to be. You want to believe with him and you want to trust that what he says will happen, but it is hard to have faith in a child that doesn’t seem like he has any sense of direction. But sometimes, those are the best people to follow because they will make you see life in a new way that you had not noticed before.
I don’t think that this is a book for everyone, and I think some readers are going to come out wondering what the point of it all was. But I think the main point is to never lose hope. Sometimes miracles can happen. And sometimes, when we are not strong enough, it is okay to let yourself be rescued by someone that loves you and still believes in your strength. Even when you fail. Relationships are important. Deep connections with people are important. The journey is more important than the end result sometimes.
Navigating Early is a historical novel that never really feels all that historical. So if you generally shy away from that genre, don’t worry about that here. There are a couple of mentions of WWII, but this book is about the adventure, about the journey, and the two boys that are on it.
If I can complain about one thing, it’s that I felt the ending was a little anti-climactic for me. What happened was a complete shocker for me. I totally didn’t see it coming–in hindsight, I should have, but I didn’t–and yet it left me feeling flat and not as emotional as I feel I should have felt. Like most books lately, it just failed to connect with me in the end. All the way through the novel I was totally there in the moment with the characters and flipping those pages like mad. But then I was let down a little. I totally would have given this 5 stars if I have felt differently. I really loved this book. I still do, I was just a little bummed.
But you know what? It is what it is. It’s still an awesome read. My ratings have been really low this year, and I’ve been disappointed with a lot of the new releases that have come out. But this book was completely worth my time. The characters really opened my heart and the story made me see middle-grade in a new way. I think I need to read more books like this. And if the blurb interests you, definitely pick this one up.