Review: “Pax” by Sara Pennypacker

What makes the bond of an owner and a pet so special? What makes that bond so inseparable in someone’s youth and adulthood? These are questions I’ve asked ever since my first dog died over a decade ago, and I’ve learned the answer to as I grew up.

“Pax” is a novel I initially noticed while visiting a local bookstore, and was drawn to how simple yet detailed Jon Klassen’s illustration of the cover showed. Add Sara Pennypacker’s heartwarming and poignantly timeless writing style similar to “Coraline”, and you get s novel that left me yearning for a good ending.

“Pax” is about a boy named Peter and his pet fox named (what else?) Pax, whose distant father is fighting in a war that is coming to their home town. With no choice but to leave Pax in the wild, young Peter is left at his equally cold grandfather’s house in a town nearby in the forest as his father is drafted as a soldier. Plagued with guilt over leaving his inseparable best friend behind in the wild, Peter ventures off to find Pax only to break his leg in the middle of the woods and be helped by an old hermit named Vola. Listening to her advice and trying to heal himself up as quickly as possible, Peter and Pax must try to find each other in the midst of an incoming battlefield.

One way to catch a reader’s attention is to sometimes focus on the simplicity of a character, such as their personality and drive. After that, have them go on a journey that will redefine them and the person’s friends and acquaintances they meet along the way. That makes a good road trip story.

Call me corny, but Pax reminds me of an adult Todd from Disney’s “The Fox and the Hound”, at least personality-wise. He’s an animal, and has such an innocence to him that leaves you wanting to see him succeed. Pax is loyal to his owner Peter, but is also determined toward survival. He’s shy, but can assert himself in real danger. And Pax is very loyal without a second thought, despite knowing how deadly and morally gray humans are in wartime.

Peter is also a relatable personality, which is he’s not an angelic child that comes out of a Disney film. He’s a kid, and acts like it while trying to be independent from everyone else. Peter can be angry, he can be emotional, he can be secretive, he can be kooky, and he can be selfish, but never to the point where you feel alienated by him at all.

I also love Vola, this (semi-) crazy hermit with one leg who breaks the wise hermit trope by having a distinct personality from said trope. I especially love the scene where she’s in a grocery store after her military service, and breaks down in tears when she can’t remember her favorite foods anymore. It’s gut-wrenching but also provides a brilliant experience into the mind of a veteran.

If I had to choose something that may not be appealing for readers, it’s that for most of the chapters, Peter’s POV is spent in one location while Pax travels in different locations. It’s not major since it provides a prolonged glimpse into the life of Vola and her backstory, as well as give Peter a sense of understanding with his bond to the fox, but I feel like it could’ve been shortened or something.

Also there’s the ending. People, especially younger readers, will either like or dislike how the ending goes. Without giving anything away, let’s just say the outcome is something an average reader is hoping for but wasn’t expecting. Me personally, I kind of like how this went, and I love how mature Peter became when it came to his bond with Pax. Still, it’s not the worst and it leave me wondering if this’ll become a classic in the future.

Not only is “Pax” a brilliant novel for kids who are interested in foxes and the wilderness, but it talks very well about PTSD, war, abandonment, personal destiny, how tragedy and suffering shape you, and all in a way that children as old as middle school can understand. While I was expecting a cute and bittersweet story about the friendship between a boy and his wild pet, I got another story about war and how it affects the bonds between different people whether they be familial or ownership-related.

Wonderfully written with a sense of charisma and determination, “Pax” is a novel that makes your hands tremble with every page. It leaves you yearning for a hopeful future for Peter and Pax while showing the grittiness of a violent reality. If you haven’t read this yet or you know a preteen who loves to read, go buy this at a bookstore, and open your eyes to a surprising but fulfilling conclusion.

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