For Cannonball 6 I had made a challenge to myself to read the winners and honorees of the Printz award. I did well but life got in the way and I fell off that goal. This summer I’m back on the horse and I’m glad I started with Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool.
The premise of the book is that Jack has lost his mother, his father has moved them from Kansas to Maine. Since his father is in the Navy, Jack must go to an all-boys boarding school. Problem is Jack does not know anything about sailing, the ocean or the forest, as one wouldn’t coming from Kansas. Due to his lack of experience in these areas he’s been somewhat ostracized. This leads him to come across another outcast, Early.
Jack learns from Early about sailing and Early learns from Jack about patience and life. Early is odd. He plays by his own rules and he knows synonyms for words and idioms like nobody’s business. Being an educator, I noticed that he had signs of what we would call Aspberger’s or High-Functioning Autism. This is never confirmed (until the author’s notes at the end), and that’s one of the high points of book. Early is accepted by Jack and vice versa. They learn to appreciate each other for who they are and there’s no labeling or bullying from the other boys. Which is important since they end up on a quest.
The quest takes up the brunt of the narrative but is seamlessly woven into the book ends of the introduction and conclusion. Vanderpool ends up weaving a story within a story into the quest and overall narrative. From it we see the boys learn some of life’s hardest lessons, especially with grief and letting go. One of the struggles that I had was that as an adult reader I wanted more of the conflict development from the boys. As this is a young adult novel, though, it is not so “conflicted” that younger readers would be turned off. I think that the conflicts and resolutions are perfect for the age group they were intended for.