Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Review: Pax by Sara Pennypacker

About the Book

Pax by Sara Pennypacker
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 2, 2016

GoodReads Description

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.

My Thoughts

I found Pax on a Wal-Mart shelf and found myself drawn to the cover.  Both the art style and the simple title made me curious about what I discovered inside. Would the story be as simple as the cover? Would this small book hold deep thoughts about the world we live in? Luckily, the answer to both questions was yes. 

Pennypacker creates beautiful, life-like characters.  What is unusual, however, is that she characterizes animals with much more detail and emotion than she does humans.  I liked both Pax and Peter as characters.  But I loved seeing the experiences and emotions through Pax's eyes.  He was the one who captured my attention.  His big heart and eagerness to care for the beings around him truly made him come to life.  Despite Peter being the human this novel centers around, Pax was truly the one who came into himself in a very Call of the Wild kind of way.

It was obvious to me that Pennypacker put a lot of thought and effort into several themes. Of these, the most important were unconditional love and the effects of war.  Because the importance of unconditional love in this novel will become readily apparent to anyone who reads the synopsis, I'd like to spend my time discussing the latter.  Pennypacker does not present war as an evil that should be completely done away with.  In fact, she speaks to its necessity in specific cases and dire straits.  She uses Pax to encourage us, as human beings, to be more aware of our actions and their responses during war times.  She demands that people take an extra moment to think about what their decisions are costing the world around them.  These costs are often more than the already devastating losses of lives and countless injuries.  They include the damage done to nature of both wildlife and mankind itself. This is quite a powerful statement for a Middle Grade book and I was impressed not only by its inclusion but by its elegance.

I was frustrated by the fact that there doesn't seem to be any specific time mentioned for the setting of this novel. Simply mentioning cars, baseball, and prosthetic legs does not help one to narrow down the time period in which this story was written.  I think this was done, in part, to emphasize the theme about the effects of war.  These effects are not specific to one time period or to one war.  They affect all wars in all countries between all people.  I am yet to decide if this adds to or takes away from my enjoyment of the novel.  I tend to like very specific world building, but I may be comfortable with letting this vague aspect go by.

What I am certain about is that I would one day love to teach this book.  Pax will engage several Middle Grade students because it is an engaging novel that includes an animal that most students are already familiar with.  I can think of several of my students that would be fascinated by the sections written from Pax's point of view.  Additionally, this book lends to several conversations about theme, tone, mood, and characterization. I am excited to say that my copy of this novel will join my classroom library tomorrow.

Overall, I felt this was a very well-written novel that has a lot to offer its readers.  I think that this is the kind of book a person takes something new from each time that they read it.

My Rating

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