Joint Review: Navigating Early and The Mostly True Adventures

In this review, my sister and I compare two stories of a boy's journey to find his brother, despite the difficulties of war. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
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In this review, my sister Melanie and I will be reviewing two different middle grade books that both focus on quests, brothers, and war. (You can see my sister’s earlier posts here and here.)

Navigating Early (Melanie’s review)

Alone in a new school, mourning the recent death of his mother, Jackie does what any young protagonist would do: he accidentally befriends the school loner, Early. Jackie soon discovers that Early is more than a loner, he is a synesthete who sees a story in the infinite numbers of Pi.

Jackie does not intend to join Early’s fall break quest, but when his father lets him down, he impulsively finds Early and joins him. Early is searching for his older brother, Fisher, obstinately refusing to believe the official reports of his heroic death in a battle in World War II. He associates his story of Pi with Fisher, and believes that if he follows the steps of Pi’s journey, it will lead him to his brother. Early holds on to his belief that his brother is alive with all the tenacity of someone whose world will fall apart if he lets go. He never wavers from his purpose, never doubts that he will succeed in finding his brother and bringing him home (forget the implausibility of finding anyone on the Appalachian Trail, let alone someone who died in Paris). Jackie is understandably skeptical of Early’s tenacious, desperate optimism in the face of the facts (and is unkind and often patronizing to Early for almost the entire book), yet he gets caught up in Early’s story as their journey begins to take on strange similarities to the mythological story of Pi.

Unusually for historical fiction, WWII is almost an afterthought in this book, a setting more than a theme. Because of their young ages, Jackie and Early are affected by the war only through their father and brother, respectively. Rather than focusing on the war, the book emphasizes the tension between military and civilian life, as Jackie and his father struggle to relate to each other, and how difficult it is for a soldier to come back home.

To me, the most fascinating part of this book is how Jackie and Early’s journey parallels the mythological story of Pi. The line between reality and fiction blurs as what happens to Jackie and Early grows more and more similar to the tale of Pi. It starts off a little slow, but by the end I was just as caught up in the story as Jackie was. The ending is extremely satisfying, bringing closure without being unrealistically happy.

(Note from Monica: This book was written by Newbery-winning author Clare Vanderpool, and though I haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend her Newbery book, Moon Over Manifest.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg (Monica’s review)

In this Newbery Honor-winning page-turner, twelve-year-old orphan Homer runs away from Pine Swamp, Maine, to find his older brother, Harold, who has been sold into the Union Army. With laugh-aloud humor, Homer outwits and outruns a colorful assortment of civil War-era thieves, scallywags, and spies as he makes his way south, following clues that finally lead him to Gettysburg. Even through a hail of gunfire, Homer never loses heart–but will he find his brother? Or will it be too late? (Summary via Amazon.com)

This book was much funnier than the one my sister read. In it, Homer traverses the country in search of his older brother, who was forced into the army to fight in the Civil War. He meets some colorful characters, from the owner of a medicine show to a kind but eccentric Quaker man. All the while, Homer relies on his ability to tell convincing falsehoods in order to keep one step ahead of everyone around him–crooks, authorities, and well-meaning adults alike.

Homer’s devotion to his brother, his only living relative, was touching without being sappy. When Harold is taken away, Homer springs into action without a second thought–even though a second thought probably would have told him it was stupid to go charging into the bloody battlefields of the Civil War without any clue of where his brother had been taken. Homer’s ability to outwit the adults around him was pretty hilarious, and with all the bumbling grownups wandering around this story, you can hardly blame him for not trusting any of them to help him.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Though both of these stories contain a journey to find a brother lost in the midst of a terrible war, Navigating Early is definitely much more serious than the madcap adventures of Homer P. Figg. Both would be worth a look if you’re interested in sibling bonds and long journeys.

About Monica

I am obsessed with all things books. I’m a music teacher by day and a freelance editor by night.

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