Navigating Early

Two-for-one represents a bargain not to be missed. Author Clare Vanderpool appears to have taken that approach as her writing philosophy. Her Newbery winning Moon Over Manifest wove two stories from two time periods together. For a second time, she’s done two stories in one with Navigating Early.

The primary story line pairs Jack Baker and Early Auden at the Morton Hill Academy for Boys. I love prologues that set the stage for a book. Clare includes Jack’s first glimpse of Early in hers, letting us in on a bit of his strangeness right from the start. Jack sees Early filling bags of sand and stacking them beside the ocean, apparently to keep it from washing his section of Maine away. Jack concludes the prologue, “I knew Early Auden could not hold back the ocean. But that strangest of boys saved me from being swept away.”

The prologue sets the reader up for a unique relationship. Jack, orphaned by his mother and placed in the academy by a distant military father, must learn the lingo and the water sports of Maine when all he’s known in life is northeastern Kansas and military jargon. He corrects himself in telling the story, “That’s the dormitory at Camp Keyes where I would be stationed – I mean staying.” Early Auden, in today’s terms might have a label of Asperger’s Syndrome savant, but in this post World War II novel, he’s just seen as “strange.” Typically for that time, he’s considered an oddity and largely allowed to do whatever he wants.

When the two loners find each other, Jack is drawn into Early’s obsessions with timber snakes, musical artists that must be played by the day of the week – unless it’s raining which calls for a special musician, the Great Appalachian Bear, and his skewed beliefs about the school hero Fish who was lost in the war. A quest for the great black bear begins when they are left alone at the school and leads them to unusual people and daring adventures. Early tempers the excitement of the primary story with his saga of Pi, that he oddly finds in the unending list of numbers of that mathematic phenomenon.

Early’s obsession with musicians for each day of the week, unless it was raining, weaves an interesting thread, including adjustment for the funeral of the pet frog. They put him on a maple leaf raft to float away and did not sing “Amazing Grace” or “Rock of Ages.” They sang “Up a Lazy River” because it was Monday – Louis Armstrong’s day.

I had just received this advance reader’s copy when I wrote my review of Moon Over Manifest. I promised to let you know if Clare could do it again. Indeed, she has with yet another two-for-one bargain!