Vanderpool, Clare. Navigating Early. NY: Dell Yearling, c2013. 296 pages.
Jackie Baker finds himself traveling from Kansas to Maine after the death of his mother and his father's return from World War II. He will be attending the Morton Hill Academy for Boys. Though he gets along with the other boys, he frequently encounters a strange boy named Early Auden. Early is pretty much allowed to come and go as he pleases, and he quietly goes about his odd activities (like his obsession with the number Pi) without much notice. Jackie finds him interesting and when Early helps him with his rowing skills, they become good friends. On a disappointing weekend when Jackie's father backs out of a visit, Jackie agrees to go on a quest with Early. This quest turns out to be both believable and mystical, following the adventures of Pi and looking for the great bear on the Appalachian trail.
It is hard to convey the charm of this book in a short description. As you come to know Jackie and Early, you get a glimpse into the lives of boys who know loss and see the world in a different way. It is also an adventure in "connecting the dots," where things that are seemingly unrelated, turn out to fit into a bigger picture. Jackie's mother said to him once "You have to look for the things that connect us all. Find the ways our paths cross, our lives intersect, and our hearts collide." I think your heart will collide with theirs as you read this book filled with unpredictable twists and turns.
This book is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2015-2016. Recommended for junior high.