By Sarah Pennypacker
(A beautiful) Hardcover, 276 pages
2016, Balzer + Bray
Peter is being sent to live with his grandfather while his father joins the war effort and must leave his beloved pet fox, Pax, behind. Confused and worried, Pax waits by the side of the road for his boy to return. Later that night Peter realizes that he never should have abandoned his friend and sets off on a journey he’s unprepared for. Boy and fox set off to find each other and both will learn lessons about family and war.
I knew I would love this book, but I didn’t know how much I would love it. In just under 300 pages, Pennypacker had me deeply involved in both the lives of the boy and his fox, and desperate for them to be reunited. This book was poignant and adorable and very moving. Pax gave me some nostalgic Homeward Bound feelings with the whole animal-journeying-to-its-human theme. I’ll tell you right now, I cried twice and have no regrets. (I love when books make me cry. I can’t be the only one, right?!)
Peter is twelve and still suffering from the loss of his mother five years ago, having bottled up his feelings rather than address them. His relationship with his father is distant and strained, leaving Pax as his closest family member. Readers learn a lot about Peter and his past and how he views life, and Pennypacker shaped him into a very realistic boy.
Now, I know nothing about fox behavior (or really any animal behavior, even that of my own cats) but Pax felt like a real fox. Obviously his thoughts are formed in a way we as humans can understand, but he still had a very animalistic feel and there was a simplicity there that I found charming.
I’m finding this book a lot harder to talk about than I imagined. I really just loved every minute of it. Pennypacker writes thoughtfully about emotion, personal truths and war. The book also has a timeless feel – there is little mention of technology, leaving the time period open to interpretation. I chose to read it as the recent past, but it could still be our present day, or even a future where we’ve lost some of the technology we’re so reliant on today. The ending was unsatisfying in the best way and this is certainly a book I’ll read more than once.
I can tell you right now, Pax will certainly be at the top of my ‘top whatever’ list I make at the end of the year. I think animal lovers young and old will enjoy this book and if you’re already a fan of middle grade, you’ll likely enjoy this too. If you’re not yet a middle grade fan, perhaps Pax will be the book to hook you in!
“We all own a beast called anger. It can serve us: many good things come of anger at bad things; many unjust things are made just. But first we all have to figure out how to civilize it.”