Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Pax Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Compelling, heartrending story of boy and fox in dystopia.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 23 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers learn about the rationales for war and its destructive impact on innocent bodies and souls. Along with Peter, they'll also pick up information about subjects from wilderness survival to woodworking; with Pax, they'll learn about the social habits of foxes. The story of Sinbad is important to one of the characters.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about finding what's true for you and acting on it. If you've done wrong, make it right. You are not doomed to repeat the same mistakes, even if they run in the family; you can do better. Also, dark as things are, compassion, kindness, and nurturing make life-changing differences.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Peter's on a hero's journey that takes him from bullied victim forced to betray his best friend to a mature, determined human who takes responsibility for the damage he's done, and he struggles and sacrifices to protect his loved ones. Pax, on his own quest, is equally unswerving in his devotion to his boy, even as he learns more and more terrifying things about humans. Along the way they encounter bad people and deadly forces but also kind souls, from the foxes who befriend Pax to the recluse who takes injured Peter in and teaches him skills and life lessons to the young soldier who misses his own dog.


The war-driven violence in Pax is most horrific because it repeatedly destroys lovable innocents; when a deer wanders into a meadow and is blown up by a land mine, there's little description of gore, just a heartrending sense of betrayal and wrongness. A fox describes in detail how she saw her parents clubbed to death after her mother was caught in a trap. Peter, whose mother died in a car accident years earlier, is terrified that he'll grow up rage-driven like his father; he's tormented by the memory of how his actions contributed to a baby rabbit's death long ago. As he's learning to carve wood, he cuts the image of a fox into his arm. A veteran maimed in another war describes how war can change people:

"What would you call someone who can go from a girl eating peaches and watching fireflies to a woman who kills a man? Eh? That girl would have cut off her arm before she'd have hurt a single one of those fireflies, but a few years later she killed a perfect stranger. I'd call that person a weapon. I'm an unpredictable, deadly weapon."


One of the fox characters is pregnant.


One of the characters frequently uses what she says is a swear word in her late grandfather's unnamed language. Another human character pees on a bush.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A briefly encountered, slightly threatening adult is smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pax, by Sara Pennypacker (Clementine) is the story of a deeply bonded 12-year-old boy and his pet fox caught up in an increasingly dystopian nightmare. It begins with an act of betrayal as the boy's father forces him to abandon the fox and compellingly describes the two friends' struggle to find each other and make things right. Plenty of bad things happen, from the death of the boy's mom years ago to a crazy, senseless war that destroys everything in its path. Some of the scenes (e.g., the car speeding away, leaving a bewildered Pax in the woods, or a deer wandering into a field and being blown to bits by a land mine) may be too much for sensitive kids. But the story, set in a nameless country, also offers strong positive messages about knowing yourself, doing what you know to be right, and doing your best to fix things if you've done wrong.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written bycallieisspooky May 12, 2020

Seriously depressing but with excellent moments

I’m not sure why some authors feel a book has to be filled from tragedy from beginning to end in order to be taken seriously. This book starts off on a terrible... Continue reading
Parent Written byBrenda G. April 17, 2018

bleakness trumps value

This book features some pretty devastating and violent deaths and maimings of main characters and their families through beatings and land mine explosions. Thin... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old August 11, 2018

Sad and Violent

I was devastated by the whole book. Lots of violence a fox loses his leg
many animals stepped on land mines and the boy and fox do not reunite
Kid, 8 years old September 3, 2020

Awesome and moving!

Pax is a heartwarming book, there are moving parts but the not moving parts and even some moving parts help you learn and have great messages!
And Pax is half w... Continue reading

What's the story?

In an unnamed country, 12-year-old Peter and the fox he's raised from a kit have been inseparable in the five years since Peter's mom died and left him with his often-angry father. But now a war looms, Peter's dad has enlisted, and he's forcing Peter to abandon PAX in the forest and go hundreds of miles away to live with his grandfather. Peter quickly realizes he's done the wrong thing and sets off to find Pax, who for his part is bewildered but determined to reunite with his boy. As the two make their perilous journeys, they encounter kind souls and happy communities, all about to be swept up by the war that's destroying everything in its path.

Is it any good?

Horrific, infuriating, and uplifting by turns, this riveting tale of previously inseparable friends torn apart by war and betrayal will have readers breathless to the last heartrending page. It's not for the faint of heart, depicting a world of horrors that threaten to engulf everything good, kind, and beautiful, making its point with such scenes as a magnificent deer grazing in a meadow  and stepping on a land mine.

Appealing black-and-white illustrations by Jon Klassen bring to life the unforgettable protagonists and the complex characters they meet. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories of kids and their loved ones (human or animal) torn apart by circumstances beyond their control. Why is this such a popular theme? Which others have you read or seen in the movies?

  • Have you ever done something wrong, realized it, and tried to make it right? What happened?

  • If you had to get somewhere 300 miles away as fast as possible, what would you do? How would you plan the trip? How would you get there? Who might help?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age and animal stories

Themes & Topics

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