Jack Baker is leaving his Kansas home to go to boarding school in Maine. His mother has just died and his father is in the Navy. It is WWII and Jack has nowhere else to go. Maine is completely different from Kansas and Jack has a hard time fitting in. He makes friends with weird kid Early, but that doesn’t help him with the other kids. During a school break Jack and Early set out on a quest…a quest to find the great bear and prove that Pi (the number 3.14) is alive. Early is convinced that if he can just complete this quest he will also find his brother Fischer. Fischer was the school golden boy who we are told died fighting in France. Early is convinced he is still alive though. He has concocted a story about Pi, told through the numbers, that explains the journey Pi has to take. Early and Jack’s journey mirrors Pi’s as they head out into the wilderness.
I wasn’t quite sure what to think of this book as I was reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. Clare Vanderpool is completely unique in her storytelling. The whole time I was reading I was getting flashes of the types of stories Mark Twain would write, but this was different. There is a quest as Early and Jack set out down the river to find the great black bear. Along the way there are obstacles that distract them from their quest. What I found really interesting was how Pi’s story was woven through their own. As Early tells the story of Pi, his adventures are reflected in the boys’ adventures. Of course they are rewarded at the end of their quest but not in the way I expected. This is a unique and beautiful story about friendship and family and determination.