Pax written by: Sara Pennypacker
illustrated by: Jon Klassen
Truthful, touching, and somewhat comparable to Disney’s “The Fox and the Hound,” “Pax” by Sara Pennypacker shows the results of war and human cruelty through the innocent eyes of a child and a fox. More than that, she shows an unbreakable bond that can withstand the worst a world can throw at it.
When he was only seven-years-old, Peter found Pax, a starving kit stranded in the woods. Now, with a war quickly approaching, Peter’s father joins the draft and forces Peter to return Pax to the wild. Feeling lost and hurt at leaving his [only] friend, Peter sets out to find Pax and return to what he knows once more.
Pennypacker deserves praise for her beautifully written novel. It was captivating unique, but more than just being a middle grade novel to read for mere enjoyment, “Pax” digs deeper into the hearts of people to discover the love, pain, and fears hidden inside. Written from two point-of-views, Pax and Peter, the book held a special quality. Aside from the typical dialogue that is seen between people during Peter’s chapters, the reader gets to experience a different type of dialogue between the foxes. They ‘speak’ on rare occasions (and I use the word speak very loosely), but most of the time the foxes communicate with barks, whines, growls, yelps, tail movements, and more. It offers a nice break from dialogue and gives the reader a chance to interpret what they will from the foxes’ interactions.
On top of her beautiful writing, Pennypacker also brought forth a cast of very loveable (and hateable) characters. I could clearly see the evolution of Peter and Pax’s character throughout the book, and meeting characters like Vola, Bristle and Runt (loveable) and Peter’s father (hateable, very hateable) added even more depth the book and made the two protagonists’ evolution throughout the book even more evident.
The only thing I really need to question about the book was the ending. The cliffhanger affect did not leave me with a lingering moment of thought like most others do. It was frustrating that the story cut off with such a heart-wrenching scene and didn’t give me any sort of closure.
I won’t say anymore because I don’t want to spoil anything, but read below for the spoilers and my personal concerns with the ending.
Despite the ending, I found the book enjoyable. It brought to light a new side of war and different people’s responses to it. Even though the book is “recommended” for younger ages, I found the book enjoyable and thought provoking, so it could be read by a large variety of readers.
The ending, while touching and leaving me with misty eyes, also concerned me quite a bit. For one, a ten-year-old boy is now in the middle of a war. He is stuck at a battle front saying goodbye to his best friend in a scene of love and loss, but that does not stop the imminent war that is only hours away.
Another concern is for Vola. She began to love Peter – she fed him, kept him warm, trained him so he could find Pax. In all reality, Peter would have died had he not stumbled upon Vola. Now though, he leaves her to continue his quest, and even though she hints that she will wait for his return, the reader never sees Vola again. I began to think of her as just as much of a main character as Peter or Pax, so suddenly leaving her behind in the book left a little bit of a hole for me.
After finishing the book, I also began to wonder about Gray’s mate. She was such an inconsequential character throughout most of the book, I understand why she never followed through to the end of the story. But as was already mentioned multiple times, a war is coming, and she is soon to be in the line of fire. Mere miles separating her from the battle ground will not save her, especially if she is going to have kits soon. She may not have played too large of a role, but I do feel that she was Pax’s first steps towards being accepted by Bristle and ultimately finding a new home, so I feel some sort of regret at not knowing if she makes it out okay.
One of the biggest and most upsetting aspects of where the book ends through, is how Peter will get through the rest of his life. He already has faced more turmoil than any person should have to face – with the loss of his mother, abandonment from his father, seeing the turmoil of war up close, losing Vola – let alone him only being ten. Now, with the loss of Pax, I just don’t believe that returning to life as it once was will be an option for Peter. Instead of returning home with his Grandfather or father (if he makes it off the battlefield), I see him being better suited for a life with Vola, or at least living a life like hers initially so he can find out who he is without the constant companionship of Pax to soothe him and cheer him up all the time.
These were my concerns with the cliffhanger. Of course, in some of these I made my own guesses at what the outcome will be, or what I want it to be, but the idea of not knowing so much of the book is frustrating. Even so, in the grand scheme of things, the choice of ending was only a minor part of the book, and overall, it was five stars in my eyes.