Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Navigating Early (review)

4/5 stars

Navigating Early is the story of three boys.  Jackie, the protagnoist, a Kansas transpant who finds himself in a military boarding school in Maine after the sudden death of his mother. Jackie feels guilty about his mother's death, disconnected from his father and unsure about the world.  He's learned some tough life lessons too young. Early, a strange but intelligent boy who lives more in his own head than reality.  He too has experienced a loss.  Instead of balling everything up inside like Jacky, Early is left to his own devices.  He roams the school, lives in a janitor's closet and rarely comes to class.

The third boy is Pi, as in the never-ending number everyone studies in math class.  Within this novel, Pi is seemingly a figment of Early's imagination, his  personal coping mechansim.  But as Early tells the story of Pi, following the numbers, what's reality and what's imaginary begins to blur. The story of Pi runs parallel and interwoven with the story of Jacky and Early.

Sometimes I struggle with journey books because they often have a forgone conclusion that you expect from the outset.  But this book surprised me.  This story is not sweet and innocent but I wouldn't call it dark either.  The tone reminds me of the movie Stand By Me, a story where characters are standing on the line between adulthood and childhood facing both sides.

The way this book is written is beautiful and effortless.  A lot of writers try to be poetic and it comes across as forced, but Vanderpool does it expertly.
"We're part of the same constellation, your father and I," Mom said that day, the day of the camping trip. "It's just not one you find in any textbook."
"That's a nice story, Mom, but it's not exactly going to help me find my way out of the woods," I told her." 
The story moves slowly.  At times I wondered if it moved too slow, which perhaps may be the book's only flaw.  But when everything comes together, it really comes together.  All of the details of this book matter.  Tiny things I barely noticed came back by the end of the novel, creating a well-crafted and eloquent story. The conclusion really resonated emotionally.  In the end, when a story is this well told, the slowness didn't matter at all.

1 comment:

Heidi said...

Yes! I also pegged this one as similar in tone to Stand By Me...there's just something about that point in life that resonated from both. I agree that the book's greatest weakness was its slow pace, but I thought it was beautifully done overall.