When you start reading Pax, you have the feeling that everything in this story is unusual, out of place–as often are the events in our lives. Peter is a twelve-year-old boy, and when he was about seven he saved Pax, a fox, from certain death. But now there is a war coming, and Peter’s dad enlists himself voluntarily in the army, even though he is not so young anymore. This brings profound changes to Peter’s life, and he is supposed to go live with his grandfather, whom he barely knows, while his father is fighting. Pax is a pet, yes, and a great companion to Peter, his boy–they are inseparable–but he is also a fox, and naturally meant to be living in the wild. The rational decision is to let go of the fox and allow him to go back to nature, where he can live as it was intended, his father tells Peter. In the middle of all the madness, that is the logical thing to do, right? Well, that is what happens, but it doesn’t seem so right anymore, the very second after Pax is abandoned. Both Peter and Pax then embark in a journey to try to find each other.
We are used to seeing representation of foxes in literature as cunning animals, prepared to deceive, thieves, etc., pretty much following the lead of Aesop and his Fables. But in this story, the humans are portrayed in a more unflattering light: they are the ones who deceive, who go to war, who kill for no reason. And that is the fight that Peter wages against himself. He sees the examples of adults in his life, his dad with his anger, his grandpa with his detachment, and he struggles not to be like them. “The men in our family–I guess our apples don’t fall far from the tree, eh?” his grandpa asks him. He also meets other people during his journey, like Vola, who has her own issues, but try to help him figure out his problems and eventually find his own way. Will he be able to win this war against his nature?
The narrative alternates between the viewpoints of Peter and Pax. On his side Pax is also trying to get back to Peter. He finds several obstacles and delays, but on his way he gets to know other foxes: the adorable Runt; Bristle, his sister; and Gray, an older fox that has also lived with humans when young. Without noticing, his own nature also comes to the surface and he begins socializing with the wild foxes, hunting, fighting, and doing everything needed to survive, specially in the middle of a war.
This is a sorrowful adventure that deals with the themes of friendship, separation, loss, disability, acceptance, survival and death. It is surprising to see all of these in a book intended to a juvenile audience. But it is a story very well written and I have seen testimonials of several parents saying that they read it together with their children, and it gave them the opportunity to discuss these subjects in a constructive way, helping them prepare the young ones to the surprises of life. For this reason, I believe, this is a book that pleases both young and adult readers.