Saturday, April 23, 2016

Pax, by Sara Pennypacker

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Pax is a touching story about the deep attachment between a boy and his pet fox. It also touches on themes of environmental damage and the place of animals in the natural world. 

Twelve-year-old Peter has cared for his beloved pet fox, Pax, since he was rescued as a young kit. They have been best friends for five years. Then one day Peter’s father enlists to serve in a war that is being fought over diminishing water resources. It is decided that Pax must be returned to the woods. Poor Pax is dropped off by the roadside and left to fend for himself. Peter, whose mother died a year ago, must stay with his grandfather. Both Pax and Peter miss each other terribly and vow to find each other.

The story is told from both Peter and Pax’s point of view, with chapters alternating between the two. Peter decides he must do whatever it takes to find Pax, and runs off from his grandfather’s house. Along the way he meets the eccentric loner, Vola, who lives in the woods. When Peter hurts his foot and can’t walk, she looks after him. Now trying as best he can to live in the wild, Pax finds life a hard, lonely struggle. After some difficult first steps, he builds a friendship with the vixen, Bristle, and her younger brother, Runt. The three foxes see some terrible things as a result of the human’s war over water, which has resulted in prime wildlife land being blown to smithereens.

The most wonderful thing about Pax is how Sara Pennypacker seamlessly weaves the two narratives into a whole, producing a touching story about loss and reunion. Especially affecting are the chapter’s told from Pax’s point of view. In many ways they read like natural history as  Pennypacker describes in careful detail the behaviour of foxes: how they socialise, groom each other, communicate, their use of smell and their hunting techniques. When the dialogue is introduced, which is set in italics, it reads as entirely believable because of the novel’s close study of natural history.

With its disturbing message about human violence, war and environmental damage, Pax has much in common with Felix Salten’s classic, Bambi. In recent fiction, it also recalls Piers Torday’s The Last Wild trilogy, a series that explores corporate greed, environmental damage and the animal world. Any child with a pet, or who loves animals, will certainly love Pax.     

Pax, by Sara Pennypacker. Published by HarperCollins. ISBN: 9780008124090 RRP: $19.99

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