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Maybe a Fox

Review

Maybe a Fox

In MAYBE A FOX, award-winning authors Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee collaborate on a new novel about love, loss, and the powerful connections between humans and the natural world.
 
Forget the Year of the Monkey --- in children’s books, at least, 2016 is shaping up to be the Year of the Fox. First there was Sara Pennypacker’s exquisite novel PAX, about the profound connection between a boy and his pet fox during a time of war. Now, award-winning authors Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee also use foxes to explore the connections between humans and the natural world, in MAYBE A FOX.

Appelt and McGhee write well together, melding their styles into a cohesive whole that is ripe for reflection and discussion and that will have young readers looking at wild animals with fresh eyes.

Unlike her older sister Sylvie, Jules barely remembers their mom, who died of an undiagnosed heart condition when the girls were quite young. All she remembers was Sylvie running as fast as she could to find help --- but in the end not running fast enough. Since their mother’s death, their small, grieving family has relied on each other for strength and comfort --- but when tragedy strikes again, Jules is not sure how she can go on, this time possibly without her sister.
 
Meanwhile, the girls’ neighbor and best friend, Sam, is also coping with loss. His older brother Elk has come back from fighting in Afghanistan --- but Elk’s best friend Zeke wasn’t so lucky. Now Elk is different, not the same big brother Sam remembers. He’s preoccupied with his memories of war and his grief over losing his best friend.
 
For as long as they can remember, Sam, Sylvie, and Jules have created “wish rocks,” writing wishes on distinctive stones and then tossing them into “the slip,” the fast-moving creek and underground river that runs through their property in rural Vermont. Track star Sylvie always wishes to run fast, Sam always wishes to see an extremely rare catamount. As for Sylvie, her wishes never seem important enough --- until her ultimate wish becomes not only essential, but also impossible.
 
Meanwhile, in the woods near Jules’s home, a baby fox is born. Senna’s older brother would be happy to spend all his time with their small family in their cozy underground den; her younger brother wants nothing more than to hunt and explore. As for Senna, she finds herself curiously drawn to humans, and to one human in particular --- Jules. Why is there this connection between the young human and the young fox? How can they help one another?
 
For a relatively short novel written in clear, straightforward language, MAYBE A FOX brings up a lot of pretty complex ideas. Jules and Senna’s story deals frankly with loss and grief, with war and its aftermath, with the sometimes tense relationship between humans and their environment. It doesn’t pull any punches, including an ending that will be hard for readers who are particularly tender-hearted toward animals. Appelt and McGhee write well together, melding their styles into a cohesive whole that is ripe for reflection and discussion and that will have young readers looking at wild animals with fresh eyes.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 7, 2016

Maybe a Fox
by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee