Today I’m bringing you one of last year’s nominees for the Rebecca Caudill Award. I had it on my to-be-read list for a while and finally got around to it. I enjoyed it very much and can see why it was recommended for an award.
Author: Clare Vanderpool
Genre: historical fiction
Age group: middle grade
Insider cover flap: “After his mother’s death at the end of World War II, Jack Baker is suddenly uprooted from his home in Kansas and placed in a boys’ boarding school in Maine. There he meets Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as an unending story and collects clippings about sightings of a black bear in the nearby mountains. Feeling lost and adrift, Jack can’t help being drawn to Early, who refuses to 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 was lost in the war. When Jack and Early find themselves alone at school, they set out for the Appalachian Trail on a quest for the great black bear. Along the way, they meet some truly strange characters, several of them dangerous, all lost in some way, and each a part of the pi story Early continues to reveal. Jack’s ability to be a steadfast friend to Early will be tested as the boys discover things they never know about themselves and others.”
I really admire authors who can do an authentic historical voice. I’d love to write a 1940s era story, but I’m not sure I could pull off the proper voice for it. Clare Vanderpool does a fantastic job with creating that 1950s voice. This book is sort of a cross between Dead Poets Society (with its all boys boarding school) and Stand by Me (with its cast of quirky boys setting on a quest).
The story is very enjoyable with the two boys meeting some fascinating (if slightly unbelievable) characters along their journey. I also enjoyed how Vanderpool wove the pi story that Early creates into the journey that Jack and Early take together. This is a highly enjoyable coming-of-age story that I’d recommend to both boys and girls who like stories of kids on a quest.