Monday, June 27, 2016

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

Sylvie Sherman, 12, was a fast runner.  In fact, she was the fastest runner in Hobbsnon School, so fast she needed to grab hold of something to slow herself down.  So one frosty morning, after building a snow family that included a fox Sylvie took off running, but not before sister Jules, 11, grabbed hold of blue mitten, accidentally pulling it off.  Jules never sees her sister again.  Sylvie seems to just vanish.  Though she has most probably fallen into the river and drowned, no body is recovered.

Just as Sylvie disappears, a fox gives birth to three kits, two males and one female.  The female, called Senna, is born kennen.  Kennen links an animal to a spirit, to help them or to finish something left unfinished, to settled the unsettled.

Devastated by her sister's death, Jules stays home from school for weeks, unable to face the empty space on the school bus next to their best friend Sam, comforting herself by organizing and reorganizing her rock collection, and afraid she will loose the connection to the mother she never really knew except through Sylvie and her dad's memories of her.  And of course, there is the guilt that what happened to Sylvie is somehow her fault for not stopping her.

Jules and Sylvie, along with Sam, had always defied their father's Do Not rules - do not get out of earshot of the house, do not mess with wild animals, do not miss the bus, do not, under any circumstances, go near the Slip, where the rushing water would suck a body down.  But the three kids liked to toss "wish rocks," rocks upon which they wrote their burning wishes, into that part of the river.   Sam had two wishes - that his older brother Elk would come home from Afghanistan and that he would see the catamount rumored to be in the area.  Elk came home but a changed man, a veteran who has lost his best friend Zeke in combat, is probably suffering from PTSD, and who now roams the Vermont woods that surrounds their homes.  Elk seems to understand who Jules is and what she is going through.  Can he help her? And can she help him?

Jules has never had a burning wish until Sylvie's disappearance.  Sylvie's wish is always to run faster, but why is a mystery that Jules would like to solve and has become her burning wish.

When Senna hears the crying of an unknown creature, she leaves her sleeping family lair, lured by the cry to where she and Jules come face to face, wondering why the smell of the crier is so familiar to her.

Are Jules and Senna linked?  Can Senna help Jules solve the mystery of her sister's death?

Maybe a Fox is an amazing book, not just amazingly sad, but it is also a multilayered, richly textured story about love, family (human and fox), loss, mourning, and courage...and hope.  The characters are all well realized and the setting, the beautiful rural Vermont woods in early spring, is easy to visualize based on the descriptions the authors use.  At first, I did have a little trouble picturing the Slip but as I read, it became a better image in my mind.

The book is divided into three parts.  Part One focuses primarily on Jules's story; Part Two concentrates on Senna and Part Three brings them together, yet the third person point of view alternates between that of Jules and that of the fox throughout.  And there are elements of magical realism, which takes the story out of realistic fiction and helps to disperse the overwhelming grief, guilt, and loneliness that Jules carries within.    

This book really hit home for me. I lost a sister that I played with all the time when I was 6 years old, and I think that Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee did a spot on job of capturing that pervasive sense of emptiness that you never stop feeling once someone close to you has died.  I think sibling loss is something that lots of kids must deal with nowadays and, despite all the heartbreak and the pervasive sadness of Jules's story, it ends on a note of hope and the sense of the future.

The publisher has provided a discussion guide for Maybe a Fox your use.  You can find it HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

1 comment:

  1. I'm at Part 3 and I'm having a really good time reading this story. Sam, especially, and Elk are two of my favourite side characters.


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