Navigating Early

Written by Clare Vanderpool
Review by Wisteria Leigh

When his mother dies, Jack Baker, the son of a soldier in World War II, must go to live near his father’s base. Still struggling with his mother’s death, Jack is forced to leave the comfort of landlocked Kansas to attend a boys’ school on the rural coast of Maine. For Jack, it might as well be the end of the world.

Making new friends is difficult, but one day he notices Early Auden, a fellow student who suffers from autism. He decides to talk to Early and discovers that he is a mathematical savant. Even though Early’s social cues are diminished and he has unusual habits, the boys become fast friends. Jack comes to learn that Early’s brother Fish, a celebrated alumnus and leading athlete from their school, was killed in the war. But Early insists on believing his brother is alive, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Jack agrees to join Early on an epic trip on the Appalachian Trail, to try to help him face reality.

In this coming-of-age novel, Jack and Early embark on an adventurous quest, a search for truth. Along the way Early shares his ongoing saga of the story of Pi and the power that numbers can hold. The boys meet a strange host of characters on their trip, and their lives are frequently endangered. What they learn about their past – and about the meaning of family – make this a book that many will warm to. Vanderpool, the Newbery-winning author of Moon Over Manifest, sheds light on the often misunderstood characteristics of autism and how those affected interact with the world. This is an endearing and highly recommended novel for young readers.