A Game of Fox and Squirrels
By Jenn Reese
Genre: Childrens’ Lit/Speculative Fiction
QUILTBAG Main Character: No
QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes
Main Character of Color: No
Bechdel Test: Yes
Summary: Sam’s life was turned upside down over the course of one terrible night. Now, she and her older sister have moved from L.A. to Oregon to live with their aunt and her wife. Sam wants nothing more than to go home, where secrets keep the family together through hard times. So desperate to get back, she eagerly accepts the help of a fox who promises to lead her to a magic golden acorn, if only she’ll do a few things for him first. But as the requests involve hurting those around her and Sam begins to see a possible new way of living, where no one gets hurt and no one has to keep secrets, she begins to wonder if back in L.A. is really the home she wants and needs.
Please be advised that this book deals directly with emotions and physical abuse both from a parent to a child and, implied, spouses. It is handled with delicacy and care without being overly graphic. Still, this content may be triggering for some. Please keep your own mental safety in mind while reading this book!
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
One of my favorite things about Childrens’ Lit and Middle Grade in particular are how beautifully and gently they tackle hard issues. It can be so hard to talk about things like abuse to a child, particularly ones that might be going through abuse. But it is precisely because real children go through great and terrible things that books must address those same issues.
A Game of Fox and Squirrels tells the story of how a lifetime of abuse, of being told to keep secrets, of being told that every act of abuse is somehow your fault, sometimes leads us to a place where we are unable to connect to ourselves and others in a real way. Sam doesn’t want things to change. She doesn’t necessarily love when things go wrong with her dad, but she loves her town, she loves her best friend, and as long as she keeps everything that happens at home a secret, she thinks things will be alright.
Over the course of the novel, Sam comes to understand what she has always truly known: that things are not, in fact, alright. Those things at home were maybe never alright. She does this through a combination of being shown real, unconditional, unabusive love, seeing her sister being in the process of no longer walking on eggshells, and making mistakes.
There is a very good reason why Reese uses these lessons to help Sam change. Seeing what parental love should look like helps Sam contrast what her home life has been. Seeing her sister begin to act “like a regular teenager” helps Sam understand that her sister wasn’t being her full, authentic self at home. But it is the last lesson that is the most important for Sam.
It is safe to say that Sam makes many mistakes over the course of this book. I won’t go through them all because they are heavy spoilers, but almost all of her mistakes not only hurt her, but also her sister, her aunt, and the new friend she’s making in Lucas. Even though Sam knows what she is doing might hurt others, she spends much of the novel convinced that doing so will get her what she thinks she wants.
By allowing Sam to make mistakes and learn that hurting others never ultimately helps us, she is able to also understand that the “mistakes” her father made when he hurt her and her sister were not mistakes at all. She is able to compare and contrast what she’s learned through abuse and who she wants to be. The result is a beautiful transformation from a frightened girl who believes lies and secrets will save her, to a more open, trusting, loving human.
A Game of Fox and Squirrels may be marketed for children, but I think it is one that any adult who has suffered abuse or loves others who have suffered abuse should read. It is also a great book for lovers of all stories. I’m grateful it exists to help young people who may find it just at the right time.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love A Game of Fox and Squirrels? Consider donating to local youth organizations or battered womens’ shelters. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.