Sara Pennypacker; illustrated by Jon Klassen
Published February 2016
My boyfriend bought me Pax when he saw it on Amazon, because he knows I am a sucker for beautiful covers, and for animals. So with that being said, this was sure to be a knock-it-out-of-the-park purchase for him, right? Well, I really did love the story, but it wasn’t one that I can say made me feel ‘warm and fuzzy’ on the inside. Read on for my mostly spoiler free review! (I am really doing my hardest to keep reviews spoiler free for now on!)
Pax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued him as a kit. But one day, the unimaginable happens: Peter’s dad enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild.
At his grandfather’s house, three hundred miles away from home, Peter knows he isn’t where he should be—with Pax. He strikes out on his own despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty, and grief, to be reunited with his fox.
Meanwhile Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own. . . .
I immediately felt a kinship with both Pax and Peter. The book switches between their two stories, and it is evident how much they both love each other. As a person that truly believes in the intelligence and emotional depth of animals, this made me so delightfully happy, and also terribly sad at the same time. Pax dutifully waits for his boy to retrieve him from the wilderness that he has no experience with, as Peter clumsily makes his way back 300 miles where he left Pax…. On foot. The story, whether intentionally written this way or not, makes me feel like both Pax and Peter are racing against time and something terrible will happen if they don’t reunite. I was more anxious trying to get to the end of the book than I would like to admit.
While the book is written for middle graders, in fact, the age suggestion is 10-14, I feel like this is a story that all aged readers can enjoy. There was a lot more depth here than I think many would give it credit for. Pennypacker challenges the reader to look at how humans can and are impacting the environment, and in turn, connect with those who we are affecting. The birds, the trees, the foxes, they all see humans grasp on the environment, and they all react accordingly. Reading about that as an adult was eye opening (I am sure this theme passes over the heads of 12 year olds), and again, really, really sad. Also, and those that have read this book please correct me if I am wrong, I thought there was the implication of borderline child abuse by Peter’s father. He is not portrayed as a nice man, by both Pax and Peter’s point of views. Pax is scared of him and his temper as a pet, and Peter is constantly referencing to how much he DOESN’T want to grow up to be like his father. He also talks about his dad’s temper and how he has to hide from it and keep it in check. So, thank you Sara Pennypacker, for breaking my heart in three different ways today.
My only problem with Pax was the lack of world building. There is no definite setting for the story, and as a more advanced reader, I guess this bothered me more than it should have. All we know about the time and place is that there is a war going on, and it seems to be near a forest. I was extremely curious if this was a real war from the past that the story was based around, or a war that just seemed to be there for the convenience of the story. Also, while there were cars and tanks and guns that accompanied the story, I got the sense that it was set in the time where maybe I would have been a child. All this speculation frustrates me a little bit, why couldn’t it have just been said?
Either way, I really enjoyed Pax. It was beautifully illustrated, so both pleasing to the eyes and the soul. While I wasn’t the happiest about the ending, I thought that maybe in the long run, it was the best way for the story to close. I would certainly recommend this book to both adults and children; while semi-simplistic, a lovely story to read again.