Shortly after the death of his mother, 7 year-old Peter found a very young orphaned fox kit and brought it home. His cold, strict father said he could keep the it but only "for now," but five years later, the kit, whom Peter named Pax, is a much loved, domesticated fox, sensitive to Peter's emotional needs and aware of the sometimes sudden cruel anger of his father.
Now, war is coming and Peter's father has voluntarily signed up to fight, which means that Peter must go live with his equally cold, strict grandfather hundreds of miles away, and that means that Pax must be released into the wild, despite lacking the skills and instinct to survive there.
The first night at his grandfather's house, Peter realizes the mistake he made setting Pax free and decides to go find him and take him home. At the same time, Pax, who doesn't understand what has happened, is trying to patiently wait for his boy to come and get him in the same spot where he was dropped off.
Peter packs a backpack and takes off in the night, but things don't go a planned. His second day out, Peter breaks his ankle and is taken in by Vola, a war veteran with a prosthetic leg living in a secluded part of the forest. She sets Peter's broken bone, and for the next few weeks, the two live in less than perfect harmony, although Vola does help Peter build his strength up for the day he will go in search of Pax again.
Meanwhile, Pax has been taken under the wing of an older fox named Grey. But a younger female called Bristle smells the scent of human on him and refuses to accept Pax. Bristle is also very protective of her brother, Runt, who is curious about Pax and more willing to accept him. As the war comes closer to them, a terrible accident becomes the catalyst for a tentative accord between Pax and Bristle for the sake of their survival.
Can Peter's plan to find Pax and return home conceivably come to fruition as the war comes closer, and Pax becomes more acclimated to living in the wild, while Peter must deal with delays in returning to the place where he last saw Pax?
Pax is narrated in alternating chapters by Peter and Pax. At first, I was a little hesitant about chapters told from the point of view of a fox. Anthropomorphizing Pax felt like it would spoil what sounded like a wonderful story about the connection between a boy and a fox. But Pennypacker has a note in the front explaining that readers should understand the italicized words in the Pax chapters represent the "vocalization, gesture, scent, and expression" of complex fox communication, and in an NPR interview, she further explained that she had consulted a fox expert, who vetted the book for her.
Pax is a wartime story about loss, grief, trauma, and betrayal, but also about healing, caring, acceptance, and redemption, which all sound like the usual war story tropes. But Pax is a wartime story unlike any other. For one thing, it is an unspecified war in the present time, in a place with no name. Yet, that doesn't diminish the horror, destruction, and death that war brings not just to people, but to animals and the environment, and while Pennypacker doesn't spare the reader from those horrors, none of them are gratuitous or terribly graphic. I found what does add to the horror of war is how normal some things are - there is television, there are cell phones, there are kids going to school and playing baseball, a sport Peter loves.
As soon as I received an ARC of Pax, Journey Home, the sequel to Pax, I knew I had to reread the first book and that is just what I did. The writing is elegant, and the story is every bit as beautiful and poignant as the first time I read it. Whether or not you have already read Pax, I highly recommend it, especially if you plan on reading Pax, Journey Home.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library