Cover image for A game of Fox & Squirrels
A game of Fox & Squirrels
Physical Description:
220 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.
General Note:
A Junior Library Guild Selection.
Geographic Term:
After an incident shatters their family, eleven-year-old Samantha Littlefield and her older sister, Caitlin, are sent to live in rural Oregon with an aunt they've never met. Sam wants nothing more than to go back to the way thing were...before she spoke up. When Aunt Vicky gives Sam a mysterious card game called A Game of Fox & Squirrels, Sam falls in love with the animal characters, especially the charming trickster fox, Ashander. Then one day Ashander shows up in Sam's Room and offers her an adventure and a promise: Find the Golden Acorn, and Sam can have anything she desires. But the fox is hiding rules that Sam isn't prepared for, and her new home feels more welcoming than she'd ever expected. As Sam is swept up in the dangerous quest, the line between magic and reality grows thin. If she makes the wrong move, she'll lose far more than just a game.


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Eleven-year-old Samantha and her older sister, Caitlin, are sent to live in rural Oregon with an estranged aunt following a domestic violence incident with their father. Sam wants nothing more than to go back home, back to the way things were . . . before she spoke up. Then Aunt Vicky gives Sam a battered card game. Sam falls in love with the whimsical animal characters, especially the charming fox, Ashander. One day Ashander shows up in her room and offers her an adventure: find the Golden Acorn, and Sam can have anything she desires. As magic and reality blur, Sam is swept up in a game she may not be prepared to play. Perfect for fans of Barbara O'Connor and Lauren Wolk, A Game of Fox & Squirrels explores themes of family, redemption, and the distance we'll go for the people we love.

Author Notes

Jenn Reese writes speculative fiction for readers of all ages. Her first novel, Above World, was a finalist for the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she revels in the rain, plays too many video games, and works as a freelance graphic designer.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Reese (the Above World series) sketches a poignant fantastical allegory focusing on the desperate tolls exacted by mental and physical abuse. When their father breaks Caitlin's arm, 13-year-old Caitlin and her 11-year-old sister, Samantha, are relocated from their parents' Los Angeles home to rural Oregon, where they will stay indefinitely with their estranged paternal aunt, Vicky, and Vicky's wife, Hannah. Despite the impossible rules and systems that she and Caitlin have grown up navigating, Sam can't understand why they have to "visit" Oregon; her favorite books have taught her that "heroes always home." After receiving the titular card game from Aunt Vicky, Sam is surprised when a wily fox named Ashander, as well as his emissaries, three friendly anthropomorphic squirrels, appear, offering her heart's desire--for a steep price. Yet Oregon isn't horrible, and Sam must decide whether fulfilling the fox's escalating ultimatums is worth disrupting the stable, love-filled life Caitlin and Sam are settling into. The accessible narrative presents generational trauma and its echoes unflinchingly, encouraging readers in similar situations to seek community and help from trusted adults. An author's note leads to a website with resources; final art not seen by PW. Ages 10--14. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (Apr.)

Horn Book Review

Eleven-year-old Samantha and her older sister Caitlin have been sent away from their home in Los Angeles to stay with their aunt and her wife in Oregon. The mention of a caseworker and Sam's emotional fragility alert the reader to a backstory, gradually revealed, involving the violence of the girls' father. The realistic story line, in which Sam makes a friend and learns to trust her aunt, is paralleled by a fantasy story line begun when Sam discovers a card game called Fox Squirrels. A charismatic fox character, Ashander, aided by his squirrel devotees, promises to give Sam her heart's desire-a return to her home-if she will only submit to his will. Through the tests that Ashander assigns-acts of vandalism that increase in seriousness-we are given a mirror portrait of the manipulative, abusive behavior of Sam's father. Sam is a bookish girl, and the world of Ashander contains references to Narnia and Middle Earth, but this is not a fantasy where the hero enters and leaves the fantasy world via some portal-rather it is one in which the two worlds are so intertwined that it seems at times as though Sam is undergoing a psychotic break. The squirrels, the kindly aunt and her wife, and Sam's new friend, a sunny boy who knits, add some warmth and lightness, but the overall temperature in this game is chilling. Sarah Ellis May/June 2020 p.130(c) Copyright 2020. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

A preteen confronts the child abuse that's shaped her world through a mysterious game, alluring and terrifying, with rules that are all too familiar. After Sam, 11, panicked and revealed the child abuse that left older sister Caitlin with a broken arm, the girls were sent to live with Aunt Vicky and her wife, Hannah, in rural Oregon. (The girls and their aunt are white; Hannah has a Chinese surname.) While Caitlin, 13, gratefully adapts, Sam wants only to return to their parents. A gift from Vicky, the Game of Fox & Squirrels, could help with that. The squirrels and fox on the cards, she discovers, have real-life counterparts. The flamboyant fox Ashander feeds Sam's hopes, testing her loyalty; she must earn her right to go home. What begins as a hero's journey degenerates into cruel demands. His minions, three timid squirrels, urge Sam to placate him, but she realizes she must look elsewhere to find courage to resist. Sam moves between the game world--with its chillingly familiar rules and seductive, but invariably broken, promises--and the real, but unfamiliar, world of peaceable, dependable adults. Reese's pairing of a realistic depiction of lived trauma with its allegorical-fantasy reflection proves stunningly effective in conveying PTSD. The abuse is portrayed indirectly, through its long-term effect on victims. Fear digs deep grooves in the psyche--Sam and Caitlin are on perpetual alert. Beautifully written, this is no easy read; crucially, an author's note addresses real-life abuse and directs readers to the book's website, which offers resources for help. A haunting tale that brings the traumatic aftermath of family violence into focus with unsparing clarity. (Fiction. 10-14) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Sam doesn't like that she and her older sister, Caitlin, have to spend their summer in Oregon with an aunt they've never met. It soon becomes apparent to the reader, however, that Sam is in denial about the serious circumstances that led to her and Caitlin's arrival at Aunt Vicky's. Reese spins a tale about child abuse that is touched with fantasy as Sam processes her new life--and the truth about the one she left behind. After Aunt Vicky gives her a card game called A Game of Fox & Squirrels, Sam is visited by a charming, manipulative fox named Ashander, who draws the girl into a real-life game with high stakes and false promises. The parallels between the dangerous Ashander and Sam's father are drawn with a heavy hand, but fantasy can be a powerful tool for working through trauma. Aunt Vicky and her wife offer a loving and realistic support team for their nieces as the girls learn to trust the safety of their new home and redefine their expectations of family life.