Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Sweet tale; a mix of My Side of the Mountain and every fish-out-of-water story you've read. Jack (last name Bauer, but my guess is the target age group won't know about '24') has recently lost his mother and his naval captain father moves him from Kansas to a Maine boarding school close to the Portsmouth base. The only friend Jack seems to make is an odd child, Early, who sometimes attends classes, lives in a basement workshop and seems to have epilepsy. Oh, and Early has created a story about the life of Pi (not the tiger, the number).
Early tells Jack the story of Pi throughout the book, using it as both a guide to their Big Adventure and to Early's search for his brother Fisher (known in the school as the best athelete ever, Fish). The adventure takes them up the Kennebec River and to encounters with pirates, a hermetic Norseman and solves the question of the missing Martin. By the end of their trek, they're friends and the story of Pi has unravelled.
The setting of Maine is nicely contrasted to Kansas, with the ocean and mountains being compared to the fields of wheat and flat landscape that Jack has grown up with. Using World War II as a backdrop provides the excuse for the adventure - today's schools would simply not be as lax about accounting for students, nor would Early be allowed to live the way he does. Even the use of crew, a sport that is increasing in popularity, will appeal to readers.
ARC provided publisher.