Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker and read by Michael Curran-Dorsano

Summary from Goodreads:
Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax.
Wow. The middlegrade books are killing it this year. This was one of my favorite reads in a long time. This book really had me thinking about a lot of things. It’s one of those books I wish that more people in my circle would read because I need to discuss it with people out loud. I need to dissect it and pull apart its greatness.
For starters, I loved all the chapters in Pax’s point of view. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t enjoy this book because I don’t have the best track record for finishing animal based stories. Also, so many animal stories end poorly, and I tend to stay away from that as a general rule. This was different though. This was learning how a tame fox can survive in the wild. This was learning about how foxes communicate with each other. And it was learning about just how much the lives of humans affect all the animals around them.
This was really powerful stuff. It’s not what I was expecting to get from this book. Add in a few more other deep, dark elements and well, I was hooked. I liked that this wasn’t a book about humans destroying the planet, a father abusing his kid, a boy running away from home, or even a country devastated by war. All these were components. But, the main focal point was the boy and his fox trying to find each other again. It was about friendship and doing the right thing.
I’m a bit of a sucker for a survival story. I loved Hatchet and The Hunger Games and this can definitely fit into that genre as well. The boy had to survive in the wild too, with a bad injury to boot. Pax had to learn to hunt, to talk with other foxes, to deal with predators, etc.
This is not a book I could recommend to any kid. There’s a lot of dark stuff here. One of my favorite characters has PTSD. War is in the background, so of course death has a role to play. And on another level, both main characters have a lot of learning to do. There were two devastating moments for me and they weren’t when anyone died. They were when both Pax and Peter (separately) came to major, life-changing realizations. Both these realizations hit me in the heart, and I couldn’t stop thinking about these characters all week because of this.
I don’t want to say too much more because if you read this book, it needs to be fresh and spoiler free. I think this would be a great book for a YA reader who hasn’t found a good middle grade book to hook them yet. This is a powerful story and I can see why it’s a front runner for the children’s book awards this year. I give it a 10/10.

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