Pax by Sara Pennypacker

cover image

Ill. by Jon Klassen. HarperCollins, 2017. ISBN 9780008158286
(Age: 11 - adult) Highly recommended. War, peace, Animals, Foxes. When his gruff and distant father leaves to fight in the war, motherless Peter is forced to stay with his grandfather and made to abandon his pet, a fox called Pax.
At his grandfather's he learns of the dog his father once owned and cared for. They were inseparable. Duty and responsibility overwhelms Peter. He feels abject guilt at leaving his pet behind and decides he should be with Pax. He packs his rucksack, takes some water and food, and sets off, back to the place where he abandoned the fox, and in alternate chapters we learn of what Pax is doing to get back to his human.
After he falls and breaks a bone in his foot Peter meets Vola a one legged recluse living in the woods. Through her he comes to understand the effect of war, as he is maneuvered to use her marionettes to tell the story of Sinbad. She killed a man in a previous war and finding a tattered copy of the Voyages of Sinbad in his coat pocket, carved the puppets as a memorial to him, but now she needs to see it performed. Peter is forced to stay with her until his foot has healed enough for him to move on, but he is anxious to leave and she is just as anxious that he is able to survive alone. The two rub against each other just as Pax is finding it difficult surviving with the other foxes he meets, learning the skills he missed as a kit,
An involving story of survival, the author is able to get inside the fox's head to portray its survival with assured realism. She beautifully contrasts the development of all three characters as they adapt to the changes in their world, while Klassen's brittle, black and white illustrations form a majestic backdrop to the events.
Beautifully written, Pax can be read by children and adults alike. The image of war is ever present, from the father going off to war, the woman, Vola and her wooden leg and her mission to see the Sinbad story performed, and the threat of encroaching war.
Peter eventually leaves to find the fox, and a heart stopping conclusion brings the reader to rethink the idea of friendship and challenge the concept of war and its effects on the people involved.
Allusions to Sheherazade, the tale of the phoenix, the stories of Sinbad, the roc, and so on are throughout the book, impelling the reader to look further into the tale. The stories behind Vola's life too are captivating as she becomes the teacher she wanted to be, rather than the soldier she was.
This wonderful book held me to the end.
Fran Knight