Following the death of his mother, at the end of World War II, Jack Auden is sent away from his home in Kansas to a boarding school in Maine by his Navy officer dad. His dad had been gone during the war, and Jack hardly knew him when he returned for the funeral, but he had gone to the school in Maine and insists that Jack leave everyone he knows to go there.
Feeling lost at the school, Jack meets Early Auden, an eccentric boy, an orphan who occasionally comes to math class, who wants to go on a quest to find a great brown bear on the Appalachian Trail. Early is also searching for his brother, fisher. Fisher had been a hero at the school, a champion rower, and a war hero who died with his squad in France. Woven in to all this is the story of Pi and his quest for the Polaris and then to return home to the Great Mother Bear.
At night when all of the school has left for break and Jack’s father hasn’t been able to come get him as had been planned, Jack finds Early packing up to go on his quest. He too gets drawn in and they set out in Fisher’s boat, the Maine on Early’s quest.
The story of their quest, at times surreal, dreamy, action packed and pain filled alternates with stories of Pi’s quest to return home. Subtle humor surfaces occasionally like the scene where they are going fly fishing and Jack tells Early to wait so he can help Early put on his waders, while he, Jack stumbles around, only to look over and see Early “in full gear , already out in the middle of the stream…”
On this adventure, both boys discover difficult truths, but though it is Earl’s quest, Jack is the one who in many ways is redeemed. Navigating Early is an amazingly layered book, so artfully woven together. The two boy’s personalities are so different yet they mostly support one another and bring out the best in each other. The supporting characters are so varied and imaginative; they seem to be part of a film. While I sometimes got bogged down a bit during the Pi sequences with their mythic overtones, they felt essential to the workings of the story. This is a moving book of great tales and stories.
“How do you take another step when you can’t see the path in front of you? But wasn’t that what I’d been doing all along my journey with Early? I put my foot out where I could picture Early putting his, took a deep breath, and leaped. I landed on solid ground.” (P. 232)