Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Blazer + Bray

Rating: 5 stars

If you've got a chapter book-reading girl in your life, you've probably seen or heard about the Clementine series. Sara Pennypacker writes that fun series about a lovable girl throwing herself headlong into middle school. Lorelei really loved it. Pennypacker also wrote this gem of a middle grade novel, Pax, that was just released earlier this month. It received a ton of fanfare--I think I heard about it a year ago; all the important people and places in the kidlit world seemed to have a countdown for Pax's publication.

I even pre-ordered it, which isn't something I do a lot. But it just seemed...special. But was it all hype?

Nope. The story, characters, and messages between the covers are extraordinary, and extraordinarily important.

Here's the story:

Soon after 12-year-old Peter's mother dies, he finds a small kit and keeps him--and names him Pax. When his father must go off to fulfill his obligation and fight in a war, he sends Peter to live with his grandfather. His father demands that he leave Pax behind, and forces Peter to trick Pax into going into the wild. As soon as Peter arrives at his grandfather's house, he realizes he made a huge mistake in sending Pax away, and he runs away to find and reunite with his beloved fox.

Along the way, Peter is confronted with challenges from both nature and man. Peter understands what a big deal this is--to run away from home for a pet--and questions himself appropriately. His bravery is sprinkled with the right amount of foolhardiness and fear. At a crucial part in his journey, he meets an old woman who turns out to be both a regret-filled veteran from a different war and the kindest soul he's ever met. They help each other in really neat ways.

The story is told with alternating chapters--Peter's story, then Pax's story (neither is told in the first person, which is a wise choice I think). Pax's story is well done; Pennypacker speaks for Pax in appropriate ways, and it's neat to see Pax's transformation from a tame fox to a wild one. He, too, meets others along his journey and questions his loyalty to his boy and his pack. I was completely drawn into both of their self-discovery journeys while they fought to return to each other.

It's clear to this adult reader that Pennypacker has real things to say about war, and the costs of war. We see a good character broken down by guilt and shame from what she did in war, and we witness animals being cleared out and killed or made homeless to make room for war, in addition to the breakdown of families that happens. In this case, it's a blessing as Peter needed to escape the heavy hand of his father.

This is an excellent book--we see the beautiful bond between a boy and his animal, we watch these two fight their way back to each other while maturing within their own skin in the process. Pennypacker's language is just perfect, and Jon Klassen adds that something extra with a few illustrations. I'm so glad this book is and will always be on my shelf to read again and again, with or without my kids.

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