Pennypacker, Sara (2016). Pax. New York, NY: Balzer and Bray.
Pax the fox’s name means “peace”. When he was a kit, his boy Peter rescued him and raised him like a pet dog, and now the boy and fox are inseparable. When Peter’s father goes to work on landmine lines in preparation for a coming war, however, Peter is sent to live with his grandfather, and Pax is left behind. Both Peter and Pax are devastated by the loss of each other’s company, and each sets off on a separate, arduous long journey to try to find the other again.
Part survival wilderness narrative (ideal for fans of My Side of the Mountain), part anti-war message, and part heartwarming friendship story, this book is absolutely rough and grizzled as a lonely old hermit, but contains a warm heart. As Peter travels, he learns about the devastation that the war is causing across his country. There are plenty of descriptions of wild forests, and occasional illustrations by Joe Klassen which offer windows into the novel’s world. Adults in this book behave realistically cruelly, but are also vulnerable, lonely, and have the capacity for kindness. Peter’s injury and recovery at the home of an old woman who is a veteran of a past war, and his time helping her repair her magical artwork, are exciting and mysterious, and the moments where Pax and Peter see blood and battle are really scary. The book is set in a near future or near past, in a country without a name, but the roads and cities are familiar-sounding, and the characters are human and easy to identify with.