Pax by Sara Pennypacker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Twelve-year-old Peter is persuaded to abandon his pet fox Pax into the wild when his family must retreat from the advancing frontline of the war. Peter realizes his mistake in obeying his father’s decision as soon as they drive away and spends the rest of the novel striving to find his dear pet against daunting obstacles. Despite distance, search parties, injury, wilderness, and war zones, Peter is determined to make amends for his betrayal and be true to the creature with whom he has shared a loving and spiritual connection.
On the other hand, Pax must survive his abrupt return to nature and learn how to sustain himself while he waits for his beloved master’s return. His loyalty is immediately challenged by the threat of starvation and predators, and the depiction of a domesticated animal adapting to the wild is rightly unsettling as well as engaging and edifying. The novel alternates between the fox’s and the boy’s viewpoints and, beyond its admirable craftsmanship, this creates excellent tension and contrasts in character development.
Sara Pennypacker’s newest middle grade book is a moving and suspenseful contemporary adventure that makes the reader care equally for the endearing characters and for the important issues the novel explores, such as animal neglect, personal responsibility, disregard for nature, and the cruelty of war. Her portrayal of Vola, Peter’s unusual mentor, is especially well done. Both ex-warrior and wise hermit, she helps Peter to face his internal and external troubles as much by her own shortcomings as through her teachings and skills. Pax is a beautifully written and illustrated novel (Jon Klassen) that encourages young readers to consider life’s important decisions more carefully.
All the best, Chris Brandon Whitaker!
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