I would like to say that this book is sweet and charming, but that's misleading. It's technically a middle grade book, for grades 4-7, so that may be what gives me the feeling of sweetness and charm. But the story itself is both fable-like and all too real, and author Sara Pennypacker (WHAT A GREAT NAME) tells a wonderful tale.
Pax is the story of a young boy named Peter, who lives in an indeterminate country at a somewhat indeterminate time--there are motor vehicles, but other time markers, like TVs, cell phones, or the internet, don't appear anywhere. Peter's father is a widower, a stern, angry man who signs up for an oncoming war (taking place in whatever country this book is set in). He takes Peter to his grandfather's house to stay for the duration of the war. But there's a problem: Peter found a baby fox in the woods, its family dead, years before, and brought the fox home and raised it as a pet, naming it Pax. Peter loves Pax, and Pax returns the feeling. But Peter's father says he cannot bring Pax to his grandfather's, and besides, a fox belongs in the wild (no matter that this particular fox wasn't raised that way). He forces Peter to abandon Pax in the woods.
Peter is at his grandfather's only one night before he realizes he must go and find Pax. He sneaks away from his grandfather and begins a journey back to his home.
But here's the thing: Pax is also looking for Peter. The book is told in alternating chapters between Peter and Pax. There's a little anthropomorphizing going on, but not overly much; the author clearly did her homework on fox life, and that makes Pax even more interesting. He doesn't perceive things the way humans do, but he does know his beloved Peter is gone, and Pax needs to find him.
Along the way, both Peter and Pax meet others, both human and fox, and they learn much about others and the opinions and experiences held by those others. I saw a few complaints online about the plot being somewhat predictable in this way, but it didn't bother me. In fact, it makes sense that the plot be a little predictable, to adults with life experience--but to a nine-year-old, it's not likely to be all that foreseeable at all. Sure, some of the messaging is heavy-handed--for an adult with life experience. Put that view aside, try to read from a younger mindset, and you might be surprised how much you enjoy this. And if you have kids in this age range, I think this would be a great parent/child book to read together, because there would be so much to discuss. Example: Pax meets a female fox who has experience only horrible things at the hands of humans and can't believe there are any good ones out there. He wants to convince her that his boy, as he calls Peter, is not bad.
"If he could have, he would have made her know every kindness of every day with his boy. But the hatred she had for humans was deep and fair." There's a lot to explore in just those two sentences.
There are a few illustrations throughout by Jon Klassen, and I just loved them. Pax in particular really comes to life in this illustrations. Klassen was well-paired for this book.