Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool touched me with the same heartaching appeal of her Newbery award-winning Moon Over Manifest. The period is after the end of World War II. It features Jack Baker, sent to a boarding school in Maine by his military father after his mother's death. As a boy from Kansas missing his hometown and his life before everything changed, Jack struggles to fit in. The school is all about rowing. Jack is afraid of water. He is drawn to Early Auden a boy who for various reasons lives in the basement of the school and does as he pleases. Early is strange, perhaps, as the author explains, in our time might be called high functioning autistic and a savant. His stories about a boy named Pi and his appreciation of the period music such as Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holliday enrich the story.
There is a legendary great Appalachian bear, a school hero and a brother lost in the war, the extinct timber rattlesnake, and a theory that the never-ending numbers of the mathematical pi will end. The story becomes a quest as the boys escape with the most revered canoe in the school's history, "The Maine", for Early is determined to seek his own counter beliefs about these things. Introduce dangerous waters and crossings, pirates, snake bite, the bear and a lone woodsman who Early insists is his brother who was declared dead after battle, and there is enough adventure here to keep the pages turning until the end. Much more about Clare Vanderpool may be seen on her webpage here.
Fourmile by Watt Key is a book of incredible suspense that I might recommend to reluctant readers. Foster is a twelve year old that senses that his mother's boyfriend, Dax, is dangerous, increasingly mean and drunk, and not to be trusted. But a stranger hiking cross country whom he does befriend and connect with might bring even more trouble than that. Foster longs for a father figure. And he finds it in Gary, the traveling Iraq veteran, who is allowed to stay temporarily in the barn while he lends the help on the farm that Foster's widowed mother needs and gives her the courage to turn away the bullying Dax. But even though Gary is becoming the hero and protector that Foster and his mother need, it seems that he must be running from something that he will not reveal. And Dax will not stay quietly rejected. This book was given a Booklist starred review.
Watt Key is the author of Alabama Moon, an award-winning survival story which was also made into a movie, and Dirt Road Home, a story of institutionalized boys which continues the story of the reform school friend of the boy Moon featured in Alabama Moon. Watt Key, a master of the survival story, is a good next author for those who enjoy Gary Paulsen. His website is found here.