107. Clare Vanderpool, Navigating Early
Vanderpool won the Newberry award for her debut novel, Moon over Manifest, so I was of course interested in reading her newest novel. And if I didn't love it as much as Moon over Manifest, it was still a lovely, engrossing story.
Jack Baker is struggling to find his footing in an all boy's school in Maine in the mid 1940s, following the death of his mother and his removal from the Kansas plains he's known all his life. At his new school, he meets Early Auden, the only boy at the school even more of an outcast than Jack himself. Early is some kind of mathematic genius who sees numbers in colors and patterns and who is obsessed with the number pi. He shows up for class only when he wants to, and for the most part, the other students leave him alone. But Jack finds himself drawn to Early. And when the two of them are the only students left at the school for their fall break, Early and Jack take a daring trip up the Appalachian Trail in pursuit of the Great Appalachian Bear and the number pi. What they find on their trip (including pirates!) is beyond both of their wildest expectations . . .
Things I loved: I loved the voice of this novel, and the loving detail that Vanderpool gives to imagining her characters, particularly Early Auden (who we would today recognize as autistic, but back then was merely considered strange). And I loved how what was ultimately an adventure story proved to have so many layers. No character, no matter how seemingly minor, was incidental to the plot--Vanderpool wove the different characters together in wonderful and surprising ways.
The only thing I didn't particularly like was the story of Pi--Vanderpool alternates some of the chapters with the story Early makes up about pi. And while I see the symbolic parallels between the story of pi and the adventure Early and Jack were living, I still couldn't get into the parallel stories.