HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Publisher: Balzer and Bray, 2016
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 8 – 12
Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Pennypacker, Sara. Pax (Published in 2016 by Balter and Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 195 Broadway, New York City, NY 10007). Twelve year old Peter lives with his rather stern and distant father who always seems mad and on the verge of blowing up. The boy’s mother had died, but he has a pet fox which he named Pax and had raised from a kit. Peter and Pax are inseparable friends. However, war is coming. Peter’s father volunteers for service, and, besides, the area where they live will be evacuated, so Peter must go and stay with his grandfather some three-hundred miles away. While on the road, they stop and Peter’s father demands that his son let the fox return to the wild. So Peter tosses the toy soldier which is Pax’s favorite toy as far as he can throw it, and while the fox is off chasing it, the two get into the car and speed off, leaving Pax alone in the wilderness.
However, after Peter gets to his grandfather’s house, he decides that leaving Pax like that was wrong and runs away to find him. On the way, he trips and breaks his foot. An elderly woman named Vola finds him, takes him in, and cares for him. She had been a medic in a previous war, killed a man, and, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, now lives as a hermit. What will happen to Pax in the wild? Will Peter ever be able to locate him? And what will happen when war comes to the area? I first heard about this book on National Public Radio, and it sounded good, so I ordered it. Sara Pennypacker is said to the “bestselling and award-winning author” of the “Clementine” series. I have never read any of those, but I did read her Summer of the Gypsy Moths and gave it only a fair rating because of a rather bizarre, almost morbid, plot. Pax has little that is overtly objectionable. Peter is said to curse or swear on a few occasions, though no actual curse or swear words are used. Vola utters the term “Lord” a couple of times as an exclamation, and there are some childish slang terms. Also there is a touch of Buddhist theology thrown in.
The setting is a little odd. Some of it sounds definitely like the U. S.—Peter plays baseball, and Vola is part Creole and part Italian, but some of it sounds more like war torn Europe. The School Library Journal says that it is “Set in an intentionally undefined time and place that could very well be a near-future America.” The chapters alternate between the boy and the fox, which may be a bit confusing to some readers. However, my main concern is that the book feels as if it has an agenda with what someone called a “simplistic and heavy-handed” theme of “You humans. You ruin everything…” (p. 54), and a rather blatant “war is evil” message. Some people might question a supposed children’s book that has numerous serious wounds, ghastly deaths, and other such traumatizing events. If one can get past all this baggage, there is an interesting story here, although it moves along somewhat slowly at times. My bottom line is that Pax, too, is only fair.