A fox kit born with a deep spiritual connection to a rural Vermont legend has a special bond with 11-year-old Jules.
Jules’ sister, Sylvie, just a year older, longs for their mother, who died suddenly. Sylvie is a runner, while Jules’ focus is on the intricacies of rocks and stone. When, in the opening chapters, impulsive Sylvie makes a dash to throw a wishing rock into the Slip, a treacherous place where the river drops under the ground, it is Jules who discovers that Sylvie tripped on a tree root, sliding in March snow to her death. Meanwhile, Jules’ kind friend Sam longs to see a live catamount, a rare eastern cougar—and aches for his war-veteran brother, who mourns Zeke, who didn’t return from Afghanistan. Jules and Sylvie’s speculative question game asks what happens after death: “Maybe you turn into wind. / Maybe you turn into stars.” Magical elements—a legend about brothers who chanced the Slip for a girl’s love; an elusive grotto; spirit animals sent to complete a task unfinished for a human—all confer transcendent dimensions on the story. Appelt and McGhee’s rich, polished narrative invites the reader to experience the world both as Jules and as the fox.
Intriguing as a story of connection to the animal world and, for perceptive readers, filled with solace. (Fantasy. 9-13)