Author: Sara Pennypacker
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Audience: Ages 10-14 (but those with particularly tender hearts should be aware that this is a powerful story)
Summary: Despite the endearing picture of a red fox on its cover, this is not a book about sweet woodland creatures cavorting in sunlit meadows. This story looks unflinchingly at the brokenness of creation in all its sad manifestations. It is also a moving narrative about the power of love, of honesty, and of stories themselves. Peter, a 12-year-old motherless boy, and Pax, his orphaned fox, have been soul mates for five years when this story opens. War is coming, though, and before two chapters have passed, Peter’s father makes him release Pax into the woods, drops Peter himself off at the home of his unwelcoming grandfather, and then sets off to join the Army. Duty calls. Broken hearts call, too, though, and the rest of the story tells of the quest of Peter and Pax to reunite across miles of dangers.
Literary elements at work in the story: Alternating chapters follow the journeys of Peter and Pax as they attempt to find one another again. Though she writes in the third person, Pennypacker’s prose is so spare and so intuitive that the reader feels as if Peter and Pax are narrating the story themselves. Plot and character share center stage in this dramatic tale.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? When Peter breaks his foot, and his quest to find Pax is in great jeopardy, he is rescued by a one-legged female hermit named Vola. This damaged-female-as-savior turns just about every Disney princess story ever written on its head, but the differences do not stop with the gender and the handicap of Vola. In this story, everyone is both broken and healer. Vola mends Peter’s physical wound and strengthens his body and his spirit, while Peter’s growing admiration and his perceptive retelling of her story with marionettes allows Vola to envision a new life for herself, beyond the PTSD that has held her imprisoned. Each character, whether child or adult, male or female, is necessary to the other’s growth and redemption.
Theological Conversation Partners: This story takes place in a post-paradise world. Nearly everything that happens could be seen as counter to the created perfection of Genesis and might be followed by God’s pronouncement, “And it was not good.” Peter’s mother dies when he is a young boy; Pax and his fox companions are all hurt by the actions of humans; Vola has been seriously wounded, both physically and emotionally, by a war she does not understand; Peter and Pax are roughly separated, despite their love for one another. “Not good, not good, not good, not good,” we imagine God weeping. Pax would be an excellent companion to a conversation about the effects of war as well as the redemptive power of love on the created order. We do our best work when we allow love to guide us to unselfishness and to healing. This rich and beautiful novel does not wrap its tale up neatly, but it does leave the reader with the hope that we may see glimpses of God’s kingdom in the future.
Faith Talk Questions:
- How many broken or hurt things can you name from this novel?
- “Pax” means “peace.” At one point in the story, Peter comments about his fox, “He’s alone because of a war … now it’s a terrible name.” What are some ways that Pax may still be a good name for Peter’s fox?
- When God watches terrible things in our world, what do you imagine that God thinks?
- Think about healing in this story. What are some ways that healing takes place? Who are the healers?
- Vola calls hope a dangerous feeling. Why do you think hope might be dangerous? Do you think our faith still causes us to hope?
- What do you think happens after this story ends?
This review is written by Union Presbyterian Seminary alumna Beth Lyon-Suhring. Beth is the Director of Christian Education at the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Suffolk, VA.
Pax by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.