4 stars. Moon Over Manifest was a real surprise to me in my Newbery reading project. My snap judgment of it was that I was not going to like it, and it started out with a very Newbery trope plot of child separated from parents… and next thing I knew, I was emotionally invested in the story and positively adored it. Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early seems like a match made in heaven for me–a book about bears, the Appalachian Trail, timber rattlesnakes, math, and adventure. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really liked this book, but I was prepared to love it from the moment I opened its covers and it never quite brought me there.
The story reads like a tall tale, imbued with a mythic over-the-top quality. Jack Baker finds himself at boarding school in Maine, expected to live up to his father’s Navy career. He befriends young genius Early Auden, a strange boy who amuses himself by creating the story of Pi from its never-ending digits. After a slow beginning, they have a series of rollicking and sometimes dangerous adventures, and Jack uncovers painful truths about Early and himself along the way.
The strength of this book is Vanderpool’s many-layered plot; she deftly weaves the narratives together into a cohesive whole with aplomb and artistry. So what kept me from loving Navigating Early? I never felt the emotional connection with the characters that Moon Over Manifest inspired. A worthy read for the thoughtful yet adventurous.