Audiobook Review: Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Audiobook Review: Navigating Early by Clare VanderpoolNavigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell, Mark Bramhall, Robbie Daymond
Length: 7 hrs, 20 mins
Published by Listening Library on January 8, 2013
Genres: Adventure, Historical, Mystery
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
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two-half-stars

At the end of World War II, Jack Baker, a landlocked Kansas boy, is suddenly uprooted after his mother's death and placed in a boy's boarding school in Maine. There, Jack encounters Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as a story and collects clippings about the sightings of a great black bear in the nearby mountains. Newcomer Jack feels lost yet can't help being drawn to Early, who won't believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the Great Appalachian Bear, Timber Rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as The Fish, who never returned from the war. When the boys find themselves unexpectedly alone at school, they embark on a quest on the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear. But what they are searching for is sometimes different from what they find. They will meet truly strange characters, each of whom figures into the pi story Early weaves as they travel, while discovering things they never realized about themselves and others in their lives.

Navigating Early is the latest in the string of rather odd books I’ve been reading.  It’s funny how they’ll happen back to back this way, isn’t it? I don’t tend to do much research before I read something, so  I was expecting a straightforward historical, but actually Navigating Early blends fact and fiction, in a way that’s kind of cool, but also was sort of frustrating for me. What it comes down to is that I really liked the concept and certain elements, but that I found part of it boring and overly reminiscent of other works.

Set at the close of WWII, Navigating Early opens with Jack, the son of a navy man, sent to boarding school in Maine, all the way from his home in Kansas. He’s a fish out of water in a lot of ways, stuck in a land where rowing is the sport of choice rather than baseball. Plus, he’s still reeling from his mother’s death, which has caused a divide between father and son. At school, rather against his will, Jack befriends the weird kid, Early Auden and ends up on an adventure of epic proportions.

Early’s an amazing character, who I personally find way more fascinating than the main character. In modern terms, Early’s a high-functioning autistic savant, though at the time he was just odd. Early gets special treatment at school, allowed to skip as many classes as he pleases and to walk out of those that frustrate him by insisting on things he knows not to be true. Calling Early opinionated is like calling the sun a bit warm.

His savant skills manifest in the ability to see colors, sounds, and stories in numbers, most particularly in pi, which also gives him talent with numbers. Early reads a story in the number pi, which he believes is tied  to his own life. He navigates using the story of Pi as his guide. While I loved this concept and the magical bent to it, I found it frustrating that there already is a book about the journey of a kid named Pi. Though the adventure isn’t the same, there are a couple of commonalities, and, while the author can’t help she wanted to write about the number pi, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes every time it came up.

Though the audiobook does a good job with the Pi sections, since they hired a guy with an awesome storyteller voice specifically for those bits, I still found my attention wandering every time. It didn’t just remind me of Life of Pi but I can’t recall precisely what other book I’m thinking of. The Neverending Story, maybe? Either way, it all just felt derivative to me.

The way Vanderpool got life to mirror the story was occasionally highly clever but often felt rather forced. The events are often completely unbelievable. I feel like it might have been stronger had it been more thoroughly couched in fantasy with only the slightest suggestion to show that it’s a kid’s way of coping with the war, much like Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series.

Ultimately, I guess this was just a case of Navigating Early not necessarily being the right book for me. I think it has a lot to recommend it, but many of its charms merely reminded me of other stories that had used the same techniques only better, which is never good.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

Pi and stars

One response to “Audiobook Review: Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool”

  1. Awww, I actually quite liked this book, although I like Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest more. Sorry this one didn’t work for you.
    Quinn @ Quinn’s Book Nook recently posted…Review: Magnolia by Kristi CookMy Profile

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