Fox Magic by Beverley Brenna

Fox Magic

Beverley Brenna, Author

Red Deer Press, Fiction, Dec. 15, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Pages: 115

Themes: Teen suicide, Grief, Loss, Bullying, Courage, Hope

Opening: The week after the Bad Thing happened, Chance is back in school. She’s walking away from the water fountain and Monika is right there in front of her.  “She was my cousin, you know,” Monika hisses. “It should have been you.”

Synopsis: Chance Devlin and her two best friends make a pact to commit suicide. They dress in their best clothes and meet at a planned site. Chance changes her mind and runs home. She doesn’t tell anyone. Now her two friends have killed themselves. Chance struggles with grief, loss, and guilt that she didn’t tell anyone or try to stop them. Kids at school bully her and leave nasty notes in her desk and backpack: “Traitor. You’re better off dead.” She keeps the Bad Thing a secret, feels empty inside and escapes through sleep.

Enter her parents. They immediately get Chance into counseling, which is agonizing for her. Her therapist encourages her to write in a journal. Her father is my hero. He takes some time off so he can be at home with Chance, cook her pancakes for breakfast, drive and pick her up from school, make her exercise with him in fun and sometimes nerdy places. And he takes her to see her mom at work as a nurse in a neonatal unit, where she observes the tender and loving care her mother gives each newborn.  Her father shares with her a very important story.

A fox begins to magically appear in her Chance’s life. The fox, she names Janet Johnson, helps Chance to begin to get in touch with her grief, the past, her feelings, find her voice and move forward towards healing.  Is it her subconscious? I like Brenna’s sweet touch of magical realism as it allows the readers to decide for themselves what the fox symbolizes.

Why this book is on my shelf:

Brenna’s coming of age novel is brave and skillfully written. Each chapter is short and features pen and ink drawings to highlight each chapter. Suicide is a difficult but timely subject for older middle grade students that offers a wealth of opportunities for family and classroom discussions. This is a hopeful book.

Brenna doesn’t linger on the suicide pact or reveal the details of that night, which makes this realistic story very approachable for middle grade students. The story is told from Chance’s viewpoint. Readers will grow with Chance’s character as she deals with pain and grief and finds the courage and determination to move forward in her life. She’s authentic, honest and believable. There are many memorable characters that play supportive roles in her growth.

Brenna is from Saskatchewan where there many Indigenous children. I like how she includes both “First Nation and Metis” beliefs in Chance’s classroom as the students talk about school bullying and come up with clever solutions. This classroom interaction plays another important role in Chance’s healing.

Resources: There is an excellent interview with Beverley Brenna with discussion questions, an afterword with a mental health professional, and resource links. Brenna has prepared a teacher’s guide on her website for use in the classroom.

Beverley Brenna is the author of the award-winning Wild Orchid series, about a girl on the autism spectrum. She teaches at the University of Saskatchewan in Suskatoon.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

19 thoughts on “Fox Magic by Beverley Brenna

  1. I was beginning to wonder where the fox came into the story. A tough topic and it sounds like was handled well. I’ll be tracking this one down for a summer read. One other note: the cover is for sure going to anger some parents who think they are buying a story about a cute fox with no indication of a suicide theme. I’ve seen it happen with other books. Anyway, thanks for the heads-up on this important book.

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    • I hope they would read the synopsis. Brenna asks her readers questions about every aspect of her book. The supportive materials tackle tough questions, but also deal with the actual book itself — illustrations and the cover. How would readers change things.

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  2. This is the second book I’ve found this month that deals with suicide pacts and one survivor. I’ll be interested in reading how the author manages this theme for middle-grade.

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  3. Wonderful review on this all important theme. I must check our local library and see if they have it or try and obtain it from a bookstore. A must read for sure. Thanks Pat.

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    • Think you’d enjoy Brenna’s book. Remember, she’s Beth Stilborn’s cousin. Anything Brenna writes is very outstanding. I like how she tackles tough topics with such hope.

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  4. Thanks so much for this review, Pat! You’ve handled Bev’s book so well. It is indeed a difficult subject, and unfortunately a necessary one. Bev handles it sensitively and caringly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Her book is so important for classrooms. She is a sensitive and caring author who doesn’t shy away from stories that need to be told. I’m glad you liked my review. And, for telling me that Bev had a new novel.

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  5. I am so glad this is (older) MG and not YA, as I feel it is a topic that needs to be covered in books for this age. And knowing, Brenna’s other work, I know that it will be approached with sensitivity.

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    • The book is very short and at first you wonder if it is a chapter book. Brenna covers a heavy topic with a lot of sensitivity. However after reading the book, you know that it is perfect for those 10-14. I remember when I was in junior high a group of girls who were Beatle fans made a pact to overdose. Emotions run high in this age group, so I think her target group is appropriate.

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  6. It sounds lovely. I know that many kids who have friends commit suicide struggle with self-blame and guilt, so I can only imagine what this book would mean to them. Thank you so much for putting it on my radar!

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    • You are welcome. The author wrote the book because the increasing number of suicides. It is one of those stories that you want to remember, especially during a time of need. It is also a wonderful classroom discussion book that could involve talking about mental health issues as well.

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  7. This is a scary subject, Patricia, and I kind of wince when I think of my 9-year-old granddaughter reading it. At her age, I’m not sure if she’s even aware of suicide, but maybe in a few years she’ll be mature enough for this book. I guess the idea of middle-schoolers committing suicide is such a horrendous one that I know I’d have a difficult time reading this book. But. The subject is important, one that can’t be ignored, and sounds like the author approaches it in an intelligent way.

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    • It is an important book for tweens/teens in middle grade. I’m not sure I would give a 9-year-old the book. But kids in grades 6-8, are ideal because this is a tricky time. I remember a similar thing happening when I was in 7th grade with a group of girls making a pact over their love for a musical group. No one talked about it. But, we all knew. Not talking was even worse.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow. I remember in my 7th grade, groups of girls were holding their breath so they fainted. Yup, So most of the girls in the grade started to do it. Stupid. Stupid. So yes, I agree, at this age, Fox Magic is a good read.

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