Jack's mother recently passed away and his military man father doesn't quite know what to do with him, so he takes Jack from the only life he's known in Kansas and enrolls him in a preppy boarding school in Maine. This is an entirely new experience for Jack but he manages to make one friend, the eccentric and strange Early Auden. Early is pretty much left alone at school, only coming to class or activities when he feels like it, and spends most of his time rattling off strange statistics and trying to solve the mystery of the number Pi. But to Early, Pi is more than a mathematical concept, it's a story full of danger, mystery, and hope. Then, over fall break, Jack finds Early getting ready to go off on an adventure of his own and joins him and the two boys learn about being lost, the value of family, and the power of redemption.
I must be getting old. This is the type of meaningful and beautiful book that would have had me gagging a couple of years ago and now I feel lightened and more hopeful because of it. The story starts out quietly enough, with plot lines mostly revolving around Jack's feeling of listlessness, but when the adventure starts, readers will have a hard time putting down the story of Pi and of Jack and Early. Getting to that adventure might be hard for some readers though. You are nearly a quarter of the way through the book before it becomes compelling and that could turn off some readers.
But those that stay will be rewarded with a rich story full of unforgettable characters and lush description. Once Jack and Early's journey really starts reflecting the story of Pi, readers will be hooked, and will be interested to see what will happen next. There are many ways that this book will lead to class discussion and writing prompts. One big question is, who was most like Pi? Jack, Early, Fisher, Jack's father? There are good reasons to say each of them.
Navigating Early is the type of lovely piece of children's literature that might be a hard sell at first, but keep trying. It would make a great classroom read-a-loud and would also be a wonderful addition to the Caudill list in a couple years. It's not the kind of book that will hold every reader, but those that do read it will be changed.