by Clare Vanderpool
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. (Description from Amazon.com)
While this received several starred reviews, it just didn't do it for me. It was a well-written, multilayered book, but the characters didn't grab me (though I did like the portrayal of Early as someone with a form of autism in the days that it was undiagnosed) and I felt it took too long for the different layers of the story to coalesce into one. While I found the ending satisfying, if I hadn't been officially reviewing this one, I'm not sure I would have finished it...
Full disclosure: Review copy received to review for SLJ