*This reflection contains SPOILERS.*
Pax is an emotional story about a boy, Peter, and his fox, Pax. It is a journey of learning, discovery, and change. While it is an enjoyable tale, it teeters on unrealistic despite being realistic fiction.
To begin, I enjoyed the characters, especially the beautiful connection between Peter and Pax. Forced to leave Pax behind, Peter sets out on a dangerous journey to right his wrong and find Pax again. Similarly, Pax ventures to return to Peter. Both boy and fox are stalled by change. Peter’s broken leg and the friend who helps him, Vola, and Pax’s need for food and desire to protect his new friends, Bristle and Runt, slow down their search for each other. Additionally, a war is on the verge of beginning in the exact location they need to look. Sara Pennypacker, the author, uses alternating chapters to show Peter’s and Pax’s sides of the story and their gradual changes. Peter begins to understand he doesn’t have to become like his father; Pax shifts his allegiance, but still loves Peter.
In my opinion, the structure Pennypacker uses is well done and supports her main characters’ developments. Additionally, the structure is consistent for younger readers. Peter and Pax remain connected, but each learn on their own. Pax’s storytelling is vastly different than Peter’s because he is a fox. Smells convey messages; fox conversations are short and to the point. Instinct plays a key role in Pax’s chapters. Furthermore, Pax witnesses the role of humans in a way he has never seen before – in war. The animals he meets can smell the war coming, and over the course of the book, Pax develops this sense as well. Then, Pax witnesses the horrors of war on the natural world. Humans’ war and violence kills animals, and destroys their homes, without any consideration.
While the fox chapters felt plausible for realistic fiction, Peter’s chapters were harder to believe. The human characters were fine: an angry father, a disinterested grandfather, a growing boy trying to make his way, and a hermit woman working to atone for her mistakes and find herself . Peter fears he will grow up to be exactly like his father, and feels moments of rage he associates with his dad. Vola, is a disabled veteran, who separates herself from others because she lost herself and because she is afraid she will hurt someone else. The setting of Pax is fictional, but completely realistic. The problem for me was important elements of the plot, and elements that younger readers would probably question aren’t addressed. Peter runs away from his grandfather’s house; not very unusual, except, no one looks for him. When Vola takes Peter in, she makes him write to his grandfather to tell him he is safe, but the reader never finds out if Grandpa replies at all. So it seems normal for an adolescent to run away and for the adults in his life not to know about it. At the very least, we know his grandfather doesn’t tell Peter’s father. The end makes that clear (granted his father is in the army, so perhaps it is hard to communicate, but it also isn’t that far away – Peter estimates it is 200 miles). Peter ends up on the battlefield and his father hugs him, shocked to see him. Besides not knowing Peter was missing, which I will attribute to warfare and army mail, Peter then runs through the middle of a minefield following Pax, and his father barely attempts to stop him, and doesn’t follow him. Peter’s father laid the minefield! If anyone can get Peter through it, his dad can, but no his dad watches Peter crutch away. I understand that families are complicated and lots of people do things differently than what I am used to, but this just seems odd to me.
Despite my issues with the adults in Peter’s life and how they handle his running away and turning up on a battlefield, I enjoyed Pax. The characters, Peter, Pax, and Vola are beautifully written and connected to one another, as they develop through the novel. The dual story structure with alternating chapters is effective for young readers and older readers. Finally, the illustrations by Jon Klassen added to the unique style of Pax without overwhelming it.
Have you read Pax? Do you agree or disagree with my reflections? Comment below!