“If I’d known what there was to know about Early Auden, the strangest of boys, I might have been scared off, or at least kept my distance like all the others.”
World War II has just ended and Jack has just moved to Maine from Kansas following the death of his mother. At his boarding school he meets Early Auden, a very strange boy who never actually goes to class, lives in the janitor’s closet, sorts jelly beans when he’s stressed, and has created an elaborate fairy tale to coincide with all the numbers of pi. When both are left alone in the school during a break, Early convinces Jack to go on a quest with him into the forest of Maine to help find Pi, whom he insists is lost. Or maybe a bear, or some other suck wacky shit.
I would like to start by saying barf. I know that middle grade books are often characterized by their heartwarming…ness….and that’s one reason why I don’t read them very often, and also perhaps why so many people loved this book whereas it mostly made me dry heave. Maybe my heart is too black to appreciate this book, but the more Vanderpool tried to warm it the more I wanted to set the god damn book on fire. How in the flying fuck did this get a Printz honor? Nevermind the fact that THIS IS NOT A YOUNG ADULT BOOK; the Printz (honor), which, to quote my friend who knows what he’s talking about, is often polarizing in its weirdness, should not be awarded to something so safe and mediocre.
I know I should explain why I disliked this book so much, so I will try. One: plausibility. The string of interconnected freak circumstances that beset the boys on their adventure requires an insane amount of suspension of disbelief, which wouldn’t be a problem if the tone didn’t feel so dissonant with the first half of the narrative. This is, essentially, a story about grief and the many forms that it takes, and the first half or so is a school story grounded in fairly believable realism. Then it diverts into a boys’ adventure story, complete with river pirates and a mother bear who for whatever reason wants to save the boys from the boss river pirate and a skeleton in a cave and a batty old woman who thinks they’re her long dead son and his friend and on and on and on. The two parts did not make a cohesive whole. And don’t even get me started on all the pi bullshit–honestly I just skimmed every single chapter that was supposed to be about Pi, the boy who got lost trying to earn his name.
Two: the writing style. Vanderpool has the ability to write some fresh, beautiful metaphors, but unfortunately she doesn’t seem to trust her readers so she also feels like she has to explain them. A lot. And that grated on my nerves. A lot. You know what else grated on my nerves? Every single time Jack remembered some pithy adage his dead mom used to spout that could easily be transcribed on the inside of a Hallmark card.
In conclusion, I did not like this book, and it honestly makes me angry that it was awarded the Printz honor. To be grouped alongside something so totally metal as Midwinterblood is not just baffling, it actually makes me angry on behalf of all the writers who wrote books for the intended age group that were actually, you know, good. What about More Than This? What about The Dream Thieves? I know it’s part of a series, but if a book that’s for kids (I’m talking age 10, well beneath the Printz range) can get an honor, why can’t a truly incredible book that just happens to be the second in a series win one, too? Or what about Sorrow’s Knot, which I am currently reading and is totally blowing my pants off? My point is, there were a LOT of books actually written for young adults that were really, really, really good in 2013. Navigating Early is twee bullshit for kids. What the hell happened?
I’m too grumpy to choose a song to go with this book, so there.
Where I got it: The library