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Tuesday, February 23
Written by Sara Pennypacker, illustratred by Jon Klassen
My rating: ★★★
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Date of publication: February 2, 2016
Age: Grades 5 - 8
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Themes: human/animal relationships, foxes, war, anxiety, depression
As war approaches and his father enlists in the army, 12-year-old Peter is forced to move miles away to his grandfather's and (worst of all) return his pet fox, Pax, to the wild. Peter raised Pax since he was a kit and is his very best friend, so it doesn't take him long to realize he shouldn't have abandoned the fox. Peter runs away to start the desperate, trouble-laden, 300-mile journey back. Pax, anxiously awaiting the return of his boy, embarks on his own dangerous adventure as he tries to survive the wild. Will the two be reunited?
When I saw the buzz about this book, I got excited. I mean, it's Sara Pennypacker of Clementine fame and Jon Klassen—author/illustrator of one of my favorite hilarious picture books. So I guess I was picturing something compelling yet fun, along those lines of their earlier works. I mean, it is an illustrated chapter book...right?
Oh gosh, no. I almost couldn't finish it. I mean: the first chapter when Peter has to abandon Pax? It's utterly heartbreaking. And that's just the first couple of pages! It is definitely a hint of what's to come! Death, hardship, depression, anxiety, war, blood, secrets, lies, abandonment, bitterness—it's all there. Humor? Nope. Happiness? Hardly! This is not just an illustrated chapter book; in my opinion, the target audience is not the appropriate audience. With a 12-year-old main character dealing with a lot of difficulties (to put it lightly), this book is definitely on par with all those tragic Newbery contenders people like to write (I know, I complain about these often—sorry). Also, the lack of setting (the story takes place in an unknown time and place) underlies the author's mature theme of the universality of the tragedies of war. It just doesn't come off as a very juvenile book, to say the least.
So let me put it all this way: in terms of an excellently written book (my goodness, the way Pennypacker writes from a fox's point-of-view is simply fascinating and very well done) with good character development (both boy and fox must become stronger) and difficult topics addressed—yes, this will be a critically acclaimed book. As for the thoroughly depressing storyline, terrible ending, and some mature content—no, I did not particularly enjoy this book. I'm not rushing to recommend it to kids, either. I'm torn between content and merit, so a middling review? You can decide for yourself (just prepare to be sad).
Find it at your library or on Amazon