By Clare Vanderpool
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2013
Audience: Younger Teens
At the end of World War II, Jack Baker, a landlocked Kansas boy, is suddenly uprooted after his mother’s death and placed in a boy’s boarding school in Maine. There, Jack encounters Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as a story and collects clippings about the sightings of a great black bear in the nearby mountains.
Newcomer Jack feels lost yet can’t help being drawn to Early, who won’t believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the Great Appalachian Bear, Timber Rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as The Fish, who never returned from the war. When the boys find themselves unexpectedly alone at school, they embark on a quest on the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear.
But what they are searching for is sometimes different from what they find. They will meet truly strange characters, each of whom figures into the pi story Early weaves as they travel, while discovering things they never realized about themselves and others in their lives.
My biggest complaint about this one was that there weren’t any girls in it. It would have been so much fun to read about a spunky girl on an adventure. I understand because of the boarding school situation, that probably wasn’t possible. However, books are always more interesting to me when there are girls in them.
I know nothing about pi. I know it’s a special number. But how is it a special number? Couldn’t anyone just invent a repeating number? Clearly, I’m not a math person. Maybe if I saw the world the way that Early did, I would understand better. I love the way that he told a story with the numbers, but I really worried that he would be devastated with what he found out.
That being said, I found Early more interesting than Jack. I understand why the story was told from Jack’s point of view - we could slowly get to know Early through Jack’s eyes. I still would be interested to see a story through Early’s point of view. A sequel, perhaps?