Returning to themes she explored so affectingly in Moon Over Manifest (2011), Newbery Medalist Vanderpool delivers another winning picaresque about memories, personal journeys, interconnectedness—and the power of stories.
Thirteen-year-old Jack enters boarding school in Maine after his mother’s death at the end of World War II. He quickly befriends Early Auden, a savant whose extraordinary facility with numbers allows him to “read” a story about “Pi” from the infinite series of digits that follow 3.14. Jack accompanies Early in one of the school crew team’s rowing boats on what Jack believes is his friend’s fruitless quest to find a great bear allegedly roaming the wilderness—and Early’s brother, a legendary figure reportedly killed in battle. En route, Early spins out Pi’s evolving saga, and the boys encounter memorable individuals and adventures that uncannily parallel those in the stories. Vanderpool ties all these details, characters, and Jack’s growing maturity and self-awareness together masterfully and poignantly, though humor and excitement leaven the weighty issues the author and Jack frequently pose. Some exploits may strain credulity; Jack’s self-awareness often seems beyond his years, and there are coincidences that may seem too convenient. It’s all of a piece with Vanderpool’s craftsmanship. Her tapestry is woven and finished off seamlessly. The ending is very moving, and there’s a lovely, last-page surprise that Jack doesn’t know but that readers will have been tipped off about.
Navigating this stunning novel requires thought and concentration, but it’s well worth the effort. (author’s note, with questions and answers, list of resources) (Historical fiction. 10-14)