Jack Baker is lost. Well, not really. However, after the sudden death of his mother and the move from Kansas to Maine with his naval captain father, Jack certainly feels lost. While Captain Baker is stationed at a local shipyard, Jack must attend Morton Hill Academy, a boarding school for boys. Accustomed to wheat fields and farmland, Jack finds adjusting to life by the sea challenging. All of his classmates are first rate sailors, including Early Auden, a mysterious boy who rarely comes to class and has a unique way of looking at the most ordinary things.
A bit of a recluse, Early has highly refined observation skills and an extremely underdeveloped sense of tact. Jack soon discovers, however, that Early is loyal, accepting and forgiving. When they accidentally are left alone at school during vacation, Early welcomes Jack's companionship on his adventure along the Appalachian Trail to track a great black bear. The challenges of living outdoors and the danger presented by some unsavory characters force Jack and Early to rely on their wits and each other. Along the way, the boys meet a variety of souls, all of them lost in one way or another. These encounters bring the boys face to face with their own sorrows and fears.
Jack's journey with his new friend teaches him to accept others and himself. The guilt and resentment he felt after his mother's death begin to sort themselves out, and he understands that his father loves him in his own way. Former Newbery award winner Clare Vanderpool takes a series of apparently unrelated details and ties them together neatly while keeping her readers guessing.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher currently living in Ridgewood, NJ.