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BOOK REVIEW: Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

BOOK REVIEW: Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

Walker Books
March 2017
Paperback, $16.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Middle Grade 

9/10

 

Sylvie and Jules.
Jules and Sylvie.

Jules adores her older-by-one-year sister, Sylvie.

Sylvie: beautiful like their mother.
Sylvie: supreme maker of tiny snow families.
Sylvie: faster than fast.

Sylvie: gone.

Into thin air, Sylvie goes missing, and as Jules stumbles in grief, a fox cub is born. A shadow fox, spirit and animal in one. From the minute the cub opens her eyes, she senses a connection with a Someone – Jules.

Jules: steadfast like their father.
Jules: supreme maker of tiny snow foxes.
Jules: collector of rocks.

Jules: heartbroken.

Who is this Jules? Who is this Sylvie she cries out for? And why does the air still prickle with something unsettled? As that dark unknown grows, the fates of the girl and the fox cub, laced together with wishes and shadowy ties, are about to collide.

 

Maybe a Fox is a deeply emotional middle grade book, dealing with relationships, burning wishes, and loss. It is the kind of middle grade that will pull you in and won’t let you go until you’re finished, the kind that will absolutely devastate you, and you will emerge feeling somehow bereft and hopeful all at once, and with a feeling of gladness for having read it.

It’s about a family that does its best to carry on after being suddenly downgraded to a single-parent family.

And somehow, knowing that he claimed them like that helped to take up the space that their mother had left. For her, anyway, if not for Sylvie. For Dad was living and breathing and right there with them, to remind them of the the Do Nots and to sign off on their homework and to make sure they ate their dinners and did their chores. To count on them and to take care of them.

About the time these sisters spend together, on the family property surrounded by woods.

Making miniature snow families was something they had started long ago: teensy snow fathers and snow children, little families like theirs grouped around the house. Some of the snow families included friends, like the Porters, who lived across the river from them. According to Sylvie, it had been their mother who’d started the tradition. Tiny snow people, easy for tiny humans to make with only a little help.

The discussions these sisters have after the loss of their mother.

It was then that they made up the Maybe game. It always started with the same question:
What happens after you die?
Then they took turns answering.
Maybe you turn into wind.
Maybe you turn into stars.
Maybe you go to another world.

The power of wishes.

“Dad, did you ever have a burning wish?”
He smiled. “I used to,” he said. “I had two, in fact. When I fell in love with your mom, I had a burning wish she would love me back. And then we both had a burning wish to have children.”
“But… Mom and Sylvie are gone now.”
He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter, Jules. What matters is that I had two burning wishes, and they both came true.”

What happens when that same family is rocked by another sudden loss.

Jules now lived in a new time called After Sylvie.
After Sylvie, Dad laced and then untied, then relaced his boots, and then sat there staring at them as if he didn’t know whether to relace them once more.
After Sylie, Jules caught Dad more than once pouring two glasses of milk, then pouring the second one back into the carton. Her dad didn’t drink milk.

The different kinds of grief, and the way it can change the way you look at the everyday.

Between Jules and her crazy anger at Liz, and Elk and his silence, Sam was exhausted. Sometimes he wanted to shout that he missed them too. He, Sam Porter, had loved Sylvie and Zeke! But there was no room for his sadness, smushed between Elk and Jules the way he was.

Jules was behind in every subject. That was what happened when you stayed out of school for a month. When you stopped doing homework. When you couldn’t care less about school because something huge and awful had happened, something that felt so much bigger than homework ever could.

And the similarities that can be found between us and the animals, if you really take a moment to stop and think.

Another shot, this one further away. Jules felt a rush of pity for the bear. Weren’t mother bears supposed to tell their babies to steer clear of rubbish and syrup and sheep? Where was its mother? For a second she felt anger towards the mother bear. But then she realized that maybe the bear was just like her, without a mother, and he had forgotten everything she ever told him about being a bear.

There are elements here that were rather predictable for an adult reader, such as the reason Sylvie always wanted to run faster, and the direction the various events were leading the reader, but for a younger reader there is bound to be some mystery here, and the engaging and emotional writing is bound to leave even the grown-ups a little teary from time to time.

Devoured in a few hours, this is definitely one of my top reads of the year so far, and is a welcome change from the reading slump I have found myself in recently.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

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