“I had a fox. I have a fox… We left him on the side of the road. My dad said we had to, but I should never have done it.”
This is a beautiful story and a compelling one.
One story is about Peter, who has been forced by his father to abandon his fox that he had rescued as a cub. Peter seems to be living in the modern world that is torn apart by war. It seems to be set in the USA or Canada but it could be any country that is calling men to arms. The consequence of the fighting means Peter is shipped off to live with his grandfather away from the frontline, where his father has decided to volunteer. The poor boy is full of guilt that he has left a tame fox to fend for itself in the wild. He feels he has left it to die. So he packs his backpack with essentials and runs away back to his home, in the vain hope he can find his beloved pet and save him.
Of course, as in all good stories, it’s not as simple as that. Peter breaks his foot and finds himself at the mercy of the wild. He stumbles into a barn and is himself, ‘rescued’ by Vola, an army veteran who has withdrawn from the modern world and lives off the land. Her harsh care and ability to make Peter confront his own weaknesses are what he has been lacking from his father. She is a tough woman. But she teaches Peter the harsh realities of nature and that he is much stronger than he could ever imagine.
The other story belongs to Pax. His initial confusion as to why his ‘boy’ would abandon him is heart breaking. He waits patiently for Peter to return. His loyalty is profound. However, his instincts draw him to his own kind and even though he stinks of humans, he is eventually accepted by the local fox population. Even so, his fight for survival becomes more than just finding food. As he tries to find his way back to the home he once had, he puts himself in terrible danger, as he is journeying towards where men are fighting the war. He suffers terrible loss and faces impossible odds but you will him to survive.
At the heart of the story is the rite of passage that both Peter and Pax must go through in order to survive in a world that is essentially falling apart. It’s a hard read and it does not give you the pithy resolution of a Disney film. I felt this was a moral tale for today that should make all of us reflect on our relationship with nature and each other. There’s an intense loneliness in this story and a need for humans to reconnect with one another and the world around them. It rather drew me back to the world of Steinbeck and certainly had the delicate nature imagery of stories like Of Mice and Men.
Who should read this book?
This is a lovely book and would make a wonderful partner to the Book of Lost Words, carrying the same sort of messages. I think Years 5 – 8 would enjoy this and there are plenty of opportunities to link with some powerful poetry or even Blackbird by The Beatles. As I mentioned earlier, schools will have hundreds of copies of Of Mice ad Men lying around and Pax would be a good partner text for older readers. Highly recommended, emotionally charged read.
You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2uZxxRk