Sometimes I wish I could start every new book with a completely blank slate–zero expectations. Occasionally it works out that way, especially if I’m browsing the shelves in the library and something happens to catch my eye. Usually though, there’s been enough buzz generated about a book by the time I read it that I’ve built my expectations fairly high.
This was definitely the case with the book Pax, a middle grade novel recommended for ages 10-14 by the publisher. The story is set in an indistinct time and place (though I assumed it was America due to the baseball references). All we know starting out is that there is a war brewing. We don’t know who are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys” and honestly that seems to be the point the author is trying to make. In fact, Vola (a wounded veteran from a previous war) asks the MC Peter, “Do you think anyone in the history of this world ever set out to fight for the wrong side?”
Peter is twelve, his mother is dead and his father is emotionally unavailable with anger issues. His dad signs up to fight in the war and Peter is sent to live with his equally anger prone and emotionally zipped up grandfather. On the way to deliver Peter to his grandfather, Peter’s dad insists that his son’s pet fox be dumped by the roadside. He can’t risk having him underfoot at his father’s place. To Peter’s credit, he is heartbroken to abandon his pet (he rescued Pax as a tiny kit) but does it anyway–unable to bring himself to defy his father and ignite his temper.
The book alternates between the Points of View of the boy and the fox. There are some scenes depicting violence that cause death and injury to some animals. Some of the scenes in the novel seemed too contrived to be believable. I enjoyed the perspective of Pax (which means Peace in Latin) especially, as it brought back memories of one of my favorite childhood films, The Fox and the Hound. The author’s note at the end describes Ms. Pennypacker’s research with wildlife biologists to get aspects of fox behavior correct.
Overall, it was a good read. For a short book, it packs a big punch. If you’ve read Pax, I’d love to hear your opinion about the book.