Review: Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Ppaxax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax.

Pax is a beautifully heartbreaking story about a boy and his fox. It’s complex themes include war, the relationships between humans and the environment, family, and the power of friendship.

The time in which Pax is set is impossible to determine as it could just as easily be set in the near past as the near future. In my head, I took it to be WWII, but you could imagine it set today if you so choose. The things discussed in this book are universals, not bound to any specific place or time.

War is usually discussed in terms of lives lost and damage to property. Only recently is the conversation beginning to swing towards the impacts on soldiers. But what of the families of the soldiers? The harsh toll on the environment? These things are rarely brought up, so I appreciated that Pax looked at the cost of war from all angles and didn’t gloss over the darker and gorier parts.

Yet, beyond just the main messages pertaining to war, Pax is also about the interactions between humans and animals in general. In particular, the cruelty and indifference with which we treat animals. We hunt for pleasure, set traps, chop down trees and leave them to die by the side of the road. Pax is raw and gritty in this regard; it holds back no punches.

Beyond these themes, at the heart of the story, are the two narratives of Peter and Pax. Peter is a very complex character. He comes from a broken home and is petrified that, like his father, he will be unable to control his anger. Yet, he is gentle and kindhearted, loyal and brave. His adventure running away from home is realistic and exciting and captures the thrill of venturing into the unkown alone.

Pax and the other foxes are not overly anthropomorphized and while I am by no means an expert, seemed to behave as actual foxes would. The animal world is harsh and I enjoyed seeing the story through both the eyes of a human and an animal.

Yet, the message of the story is not overly bleak. Through friendship and selflessness we are made stronger and are able to heal. We can interact positively with other people and the environment if only we would stop for a moment and think about more than just ourselves.

The ending was heartbreaking and packed the emotional punch I was hoping for. If you’re liable to cry while reading, keep tissues handy.

A thoughtful and powerful book that is sure to spark discussion. Recommended to fans of animal stories such as Warriors, and heartfelt character driven stories such as those by Kate DiCamillo.


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