when i first saw this book advertised at BEA, i did an anticipation-dance while drooling over that cover. it was a very messy dance, like a drunken sprinkler, and i guess it dizzied me into thinking this was a picture book. i couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, and the day it came out i barreled straight over to the kids department and after rerouting myself from the picture book section, i grabbed a copy and had to pause for confusion. words?? why so many words?
there are actually very few pictures in here, and there isn’t even a fox in all of them, which was kind of disappointing at first, but then i read it and there was no more disappointment. okay, there was significantly less disappointment.
this is a powerful story; it’s harsh, but it’s honest.
it’s war and nature and violence and death and love and duty and loyalty and sacrifice. which, to be fair, would have been a lot for a picture book to take on, but the heart wants what the heart wants.
there are some middle grade books that you read when you’re a kid that are totally disposable; just reading for reading’s sake and you forget all about ’em ten minutes after they’re done. but then there are some that are a little more challenging, that inspire complicated emotions lasting well into adulthood. for me, it was Island of the Blue Dolphins, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Trumpet of the Swan, The Incredible Journey, etc, and i just know that if i were a wee young’un today, this would also become one of those books for me.
it’s a lovely story about a boy and his pet fox, separated by war, and their struggle to reunite. it’s tender and sad and fervent emotional stuff. i didn’t cry, because that’s a rare and beautiful thing, but i got one of those lumps in my throat that was either temporary cancer or feelings.
my roaring about the ending of the book was written immediately after finishing it, and now that i have had a little bit of time to process it, i am somewhat less reactionary. the ending itself is fine – fair and reasonable and not dissimilar to many other books/films of its kind. is it what i wanted to happen? no, but i also didn’t want andie to end up with blane because duh.
but i do feel left in limbo – there are a couple of hanging chads bugging me and preventing me from a full-on embrace of the story. i understand with my logic-brain that it’s more effective to have the book end where it did in full emotional flower of instead of having a “time passes” epilogue or something, but it does give me a little resolution-agita.View Spoiler »ending the book there is kind of unfair to the vola storyline. peter spends most of the book under her care, they change each other for the better, but then he takes leave of her so abruptly, neither of them is given emotional closure. obviously, peter is in a hurry to find pax – that’s been his goal the whole book long, and time is of the essence, but by not returning to her in some way at the end; whether it be stated or implicit, it feels ungrateful of peter and shortsighted of the author in not giving them a less rushed farewell, or one where there is a more explicit acknowledgment of their paths crossing again in the future.
the same goes for peter and his father – there’s no sense of how what peter has gone through and the strength and control he now knows himself to have will affect his relationship with his father in the future. peter has grown into a more confident person who no longer worries about inheriting his father’s violence, but how will this “new” peter coexist with his father? what will their relationship become? they don’t get a real confrontation scene, which seems odd, and i don’t really understand peter’s father as a character. he’s severe in his grief, and physically aggressive, yet he’s charmed by pax’s appearance in the tent, so he’s not irredeemably evil. but the scene where the therapist comes to the house is hard to reconcile or explain. i’m not sure what he was so angry about there, or what he is to this book other than “what peter does not want to become.”
i’m not sure what peter’s life will be without pax. pax is going to be fine – he has an instant new family to fill the hole peter leaves behind. peter has just had loss (mother) followed by loss (vola) followed by loss (pax), and now he’s left with just his father and this war that’s going to break at amy minute.
and what is this war, even?
by choosing to focus on only the micro – the reunion however brief, between pax and peter, it undermines the seriousness of this war; after we have been told to “tell the truth about war” and have actually seen the “truth” of it as enacted upon the animals, if not the human loss. the war is unresolved, unexplained and mostly just serving as a threat – ominously painting the story’s background with its irrevocable approach only to be supplanted by a goodbye scene and left … still coming. « Hide Spoiler
so, yeah -it seems i do still have a problem with the way the ending was handled, but i’m not gonna let that ruin my day or the five-
star cat feel of this book in my heart.
the heart wants what the heart wants and the heart is also able to overlook as many flaws as it has to if there are enough strong positive feelings inside.
MY COPY IS DEFECTIVE!! DIFFERENT ENDING PLEASE.