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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Slow, Snore of a Story Too Dull For My Tastes

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Still reeling from the unexpected death of his mother, the last thing 13-year-old Jack Baker wants is to be shipped off to boarding school.  But that's exactly what has happened.  Jack longs for Kansas and the home he's left behind.  Maine just isn't the same.  Even with his Navy captain father stationed nearby, Jack couldn't feel more adrift.  It's not like he really knows his father—a strict man who's been fighting in the European Theater for the last four years—but he'd rather be in Kansas with him than living on the shores of the Atlantic with a bunch of boys he doesn't know.  Jack's mother would have listened to his concerns; his father doesn't care.

It doesn't take long for Jack to realize he'll never quite fit in at Morton Hill Academy for Boys.  He's a hick, who gets nauseous just looking at the ocean.  Boats are as foreign to him as the moon—he certainly doesn't know how to row like the other boys.  And that's just the most noticeable difference between him and the others.  When Jack meets Early Auden, a strange kid who's mostly ignored by Morton Hill's staff and student body, he knows he's finally made a friend.  No one else hangs out with this oddest of boys, but with Early, Jack feels tolerated, if not accepted.  

When Early hatches a crazy plan to track an (allegedly) extinct bear, Jack wonders if his new pal might be not just weird, but actually insane.  And yet, Jack finds himself following his crazy friend on a wild adventure along the Appalachian Trail.  On the way, they'll encounter pirates, mountain men, and all sorts of other strange characters.  Will they locate the great Appalachian bear?  Or will the startling truths they discover about themselves be enough of a treasure to satisfy the young adventurers?

The best words I can think of to describe Navigating Early, a new middle grade novel by the Newbery Award-winning Clare Vanderpool, are the same adjectives with which the boys of Morton Hill labeled Early—strange, odd, weird, etc.  It really is a different kind of book, one that I'm just not sure its target audience is going to appreciate.  The story starts slowly, drags through the middle, and finally picks up at the end.  The question is, will young readers stick around that long?  Because, like I said, it's a strange little book.  And the tale pretty much centers around math.  I mean, its real themes are friendship, loyalty and overcoming grief, but there's a lot of talk about the number pi.  Odd for a children's book.  The writing itself isn't bad, it's just that the story scoots along at such a snail's pace that I grew bored with it very quickly.  Honestly, if I hadn't been reading it as part of my volunteer work at my kids' school, I wouldn't have gotten past the first couple chapters.  I just can't imagine young readers seeing it through to the end either.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain)

Grade:  C+

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for scary images and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed a copy of Navigating Early from my children's elementary school library as part of my volunteer work with the school's homegrown reading program.


  1. Have you read Moon Over Manifest? It's amazing. Don't let this one put you off.

    1. No, but I'm still planning to, even though NAVIGATING EARLY definitely wasn't for me.

  2. Oh, I'm so disappointed to hear this! I absolutely loved Moon Over Manifest and was hoping this would be as good. I'll still read it for sure but with a little less excitement. :-)

  3. Yeah, a slow book for middle graders...not good. What a bummer.


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