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Newbery or Not: Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Book Blurb: “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.”

Pub Stub: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, ISBN-10 0385742096, January 2013

Author Tidbits: Vanderpool, Claire. 2011 Newbery Medal recipient for Moon Over Manifest.

Newbery or Not: Rich with symbolism, feeling, and adventure, this powerful and dangerous journey is a tribute to the power of creating your own narrative. It’s also the third book I’ve read during this little project that involved possible spectrum symptoms (the other two are Counting by 7s and The Thing About Luck). Part of me wonders if authors have realized that the obsessive fact-gathering present in many people who are on the spectrum gives an author the easiest and most excusable way to inject facts and research into the story. Vanderpool went a step farther and included the most inspired case of synesthesia I have yet to encounter in literature.

The various threads of both plots (the main narrative and the pi story) and the personal problems of the characters involved all come together and solve each other in the end in a seemingly organic way, with the exception perhaps of one unbelievable coincidence. While it’s an impressive work and certainly deserving of recognition, though, I don’t see it winning. Why not? Because it’s statistically unlikely for either The Thing About Luck or Navigating Early to win this year, since only five authors have ever managed to win the Newbery twice. I wish Jack and Early a successful run in this literary regatta nonetheless.

Weigh In: Do you think there are timber rattlesnakes in Maine?

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