Many chapter books have documented the love between a boy and his dog. Sara Pennypacker’s moving February novel, Pax, already a best seller, tweaks the formula by focusing on a boy, Peter, and his fox, Pax.
The two have been inseparable for years when Peter’s father goes to war and an evacuation forces Peter to abandon Pax. Pennypacker is gifted at drawing her reader into an ambiguous but familiar place: there are Jolly Ranchers and baseball diamonds but nary an iPhone. And if it’s unclear why Pax and Peter are evacuating, it doesn’t matter. They are determined to reunite, and therein lies the momentum of the novel.
Pennypacker’s elegant language and insight into human nature spin a fable extolling empathy above all. Peter sometimes feels as if he’s seeing through Pax’s eyes, leading him to understand “how things that seem to be separate are really connected to one another.” By the novel’s poignant ending, Pennypacker has gently made the case that all of us should aspire to that view–children and adults alike.
This appears in the April 04, 2016 issue of TIME.