Pax by Sara Pennypacker. 9780062377012. 2016. Gr 4-7.
Lately, I have had a string of books I have started reading, but that have failed to “grab me” right away. I am one of those people who usually just plows through, thinking a book is bound to get better (I am also one who would never walk out of a movie, no matter how bad it is. Or ask for directions; I think I will know where I am if I just “get over that next hill”). So many people I talk to about books have no problem abandoning a book that hasn’t grabbed them within a certain number of pages. I am starting to agree, but I digress!
Thankfully, Pax grabs you from the very first pages. Pax is told in short chapters, of which the narrator alternates between Pax (a fox), and Peter (a boy). Tension fills the first pages, where we read that the fox is confused and sensing anxiety; the boy is distraught and crying. Pax and Peter have been inseparable since Pax was an abandoned runt, but now that unthinkable has happened…they are separated, and it is Peter who now abandons Pax.
We learn that war has torn the unnamed country, and Peter’s father is going off to fight, so Peter must go far away to stay with his grandfather. These circumstances mean that Pax can no longer be Peter’s pet and companion. It is heartwrenching, but Peter quickly realizes he can’t be without Pax. He leaves his grandfather a note and steals of in the night to trek the long distance to reunite himself with his fox.
Both Pax and Peter have their share of adventures during their time apart. Pax is dealing with being in the wild for the first time in his life. He encounters other foxes, who receive him with suspicion. He needs to find food on his own, which is another new experience. Meanwhile, Peter is “alone in the wild” in his own way. He finds difficulty in his long journey, facing exposure to the harsh elements and encountering suspicious people along the way who may put his trek in jeopardy. An accident that results in a broken bone further jeopardizes Peter and Pax reuniting.
But allies are made as well. Peter finds Vola, a flawed but kind war veteran who leads a reclusive life. Pax , too, finds reciprocated kindness from the forest foxes he finds. In just one of the many life lessons woven into the story, readers see that connection matters. Both Vola and a fox that Pax comes to know as Bristle play integral parts in Peter and Pax finding their way.
Pax is a beautiful and ugly book. It shows the power of relationships, and the horrible costs of war. It explores the line between being wild and tame. In short, it is wonderful.