Navigating Early is one of those books that I might not have bothered to read had it not been our book club’s first selection for this year. It’s a middle-grade novel about Jackie, a 13-year-old Kansas boy who moves to a boarding school in Maine, and Early, an eccentric classmate who lives at the school basement. One might have thought that the title is a descriptive action, such as Waking Up Early or Sleeping Early, but no, “Navigating” is a transitive verb and the direct object is the person Early.
I tend to treat a novel differently when I know that the intended audience for it is younger than me. I am either more forgiving or more flexible. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I found this rather fun. If I had a nephew or a niece, I would like him or her to read this novel about a friendship that is strengthened by the boys’ adventure.
At first, the friendship didn’t seem to have a chance because Jackie is that kind of boy who can be in the “in” group if he wants to and Early is that kind of boy who can never be in that group in spite of any effort. But he’s happy enough not being in that group. Besides, he’s too busy plotting a story out of the (in)finite number of pi.
The first parts of the novel are concerned with school activities. There’s nothing adventurous, only episodes of boys dumping their friends so that they could prove to the rest that they are cool. One is inclined to think that, aside from the parallel story based on pi, more episodes of friendship tests will go on. But fantastical elements are introduced when Jackie tags along Early in his quest to find his brother, long believed to have died during WWII.
There are pirates, hunters, centenarians, bears, rattlesnakes, and more stuff that creates action and that also threatens to suspend the reader in disbelief. Who would have thought that the river voyage, which at the core is a navigation through Early, would involve all of these? I know that this is for younger readers who might still enjoy playing outdoor games, but really? That’s a lot of adventure. It sure looks that they had more fun than Huckleberry Finn, who is name-dropped by a semiliterate visionary of sorts whom the boys meet in the woods. This guy, the Norwegian Gunnar, mentions some of the lines that I like best in the book.
“No one say anything about knowing the names of the stars. No, the sky, it is not a contest or an exam. The only question is, can you look up? Can you take it all in? As for names of constellations, they are not the be-all and the end-all. The stars, they are not bound one to another. They are meant to be gazed upon. Admired, enjoyed. It is like the fly-fishing. Fly-fishing is not about catching the fish. It is about enjoying the water, the breeze, the fish swimming all around. If you catch one, good. If you don’t … that is even better. That mean you come out and get to try all over again!”
This is the first book that I read in the electronic format. I’m pretty sure that it has affected my reading. It felt like I was plodding through a TL;DR-ish post. My eyes hurt a lot. Good thing it isn’t that bad, but I wish I were 12 or younger.
[Read in January 2015.]
[3 out of 5 stars.]