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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Navigating Early, by Clare Vanderpool. Delacorte, Random House. 2013. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"The stars, they are not bound one to another. They are meant to be gazed upon. Admired, enjoyed. It is like the fly-fishing. Fly-fishing is not about catching the fish. It is about enjoying the water, the breeze, the fish swimming all around. If you catch one, good. If you don't...that is even better. That means you come out and get to try all over again."

Jack's mother is dead. His father has been at sea for four years. Life is not that great. When his father gets leave from the navy to move Jack closer to his home base, he enrols Jack in a boarding school in Maine. That doesn't make life any easier. Jack is new to the school, alliances have been made and while the boys don't treat him badly, he finds that he has little in common with any of them.

Enter Early Arden. Jack notices him on the first day he is at the academy...he is filling sand bags in an attempt to hold back the ocean. Early is 'strange'; but that doesn't keep them from friendship. Jack soon learns that Early is special, while being considered strange by others. Early is a math whiz and becomes agitated when their math teacher passes on the premise that the numbers in pi do end. He sees stories in those numbers he so loves. And, he shares his stories with Jack.

Their friendship is based on a mutual interest in math, music and rowing. Together, they set out on a quest; Early wants to find his lost brother, a mythical bear and of course, Pi. Not wanting Early to go on his own, and with no plans for the week's holiday, Jack decides to accompany his friend.

The pace definitely picks up as they set out, and I spent the rest of the time reading right through the many beautifully crafted scenes. Navigating Early is about grief,  about relationships, about bravery, about family and healing. It is about pirates and adventure, remarkable characters, and also about great fear. It breaks your heart and then mends it.

No spoilers here! This would be a remarkable book to read aloud to a group of sixth, seventh, eighth graders, and one that would find an audience for independent older readers. I'm certain that you will see it as a Newbery contender!   

"My mom was right. Our stories are all intertwined. It's just a matter of connecting the dots. I keep looking for her to pop up somewhere in this story. To somehow, mysteriously, be a part of the connections, intersections, and collisions. I keep feeling that I should have something more than just the broken fragments of her teacup tucked away in a box in my closet. But I know Elaine Gallagher Baker, the civilian; she'll turn up somewhere. And when she does, I'll hear her say, There are no coincidences. Just miracles by the boatload."      

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