Review of Pax

by Sara Pennypacker; illus. by Jon Klassen
Intermediate, Middle School   Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins   278 pp.
2/16   978-0-06-237701-2   $16.99
e-book ed. 978-0-06-237703-6   $11.99

Twelve-year-old Peter and his pet fox have been inseparable since Peter rescued Pax as a kit. Now Peter’s father has enlisted, and there’s no room at Grandfather’s house (where the boy will be staying) for a fox, tame or otherwise; Peter’s father forces his son to release Pax into the wild. Heartsick, Peter soon decides to run away to find Pax. He stumbles onto the land of a woman named Vola, a hermit who reluctantly helps the boy regain his strength after an injury and whose own tragic backstory gradually emerges. Omniscient third-person chapters alternate between Peter’s story and that of Pax, who falls in with a young vixen, her fox-kit brother, and an aging alpha who takes Pax under his protection as the fox tries to find his boy. Pennypacker’s setting is stark, the details of time and place intentionally murky, with occasional textured black-and-white illustrations by Klassen playing up scenes both ordinary-seeming (a boy in a baseball dugout) and subtly menacing (flowers trampled into the ground). “Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening” reads the book’s epigraph, and readers are kept off-balance throughout as soldiers, including Peter’s father, amass and prepare for an unnamed war against unidentified combatants that’s poised to take place practically in Peter’s backyard. An emotional, thought-provoking story of conflict, loyalty, and love.

From the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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