Friday, January 27, 2012

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu


Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn't help it - Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn't fit anywhere else.

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it's never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack's heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it's up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she's read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn't the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

From the synopsis this looks like a simple retelling of The Snow Queen in a modern setting and it is that but - oh, it's so much more. Hazel feels that she just doesn't fit in. Her adopted parents have broken up and she has to go from a private school where there are no formal desks and teachers use their first names to a classroom where every desk is organised in perfect alignment to the one next to it. Hazel's bored and can't concentrate which makes her stand out even more. The only bright part of her day is Jack, her neighbour and friend for what seems like forever but now they're eleven things are changing. Classmates ask if they're going out and sometimes Jack likes to spend time with the same boys who call her Crazy Hazy.

Then Jack gets something in his eye and the next day he disappears. There are rational explanations but Hazel just knows that something else has happened to him. The book is divided into two parts - before Jack's accident and afterwards. The before is filled with Hazel's existence. How she feels now, how she's adapting to life without her dad and her new school. To say that some of this is heartbreaking would be an understatement and the author uses such perfect language that it takes you back to that confusing time; when life was filled with the problems of fitting in and best friends, the pain of the inevitability of change. It's not all bleak - there are wonderful moments between Jack and Hazel. The text is littered with references to Gaiman and J.K. Rowing, comic book heroes and favourite foods. It was both familiar but like any good fairy story - scary and not at all reassuring.

Part two takes place in the forest and follows Hazel as she searches for Jack and the Snow Queen. Again, there are many recognisable references but more fairy story related. Hazel may have only entered a local forest but she's transported to a world of magic. There's nothing comforting in her journey but as she searches she discovers more about herself, about self-acceptance and about dealing with change. Anne Ursu is such a wonderful writer and I was terrified for Hazel frequently as she travelled along. Breadcrumbs is a middle grade book but I think it can be enjoyed by teens and adults too. It's the kind of book I wished I'd read when I was eleven. Beautifully done and timeless.


Unknown said...

What an utterly fabulous review Sarah. I wish I could be as descriptive in my writing of reviews as you are.
Stop forcing me to buy books please ;D

Jenni said...

This sounds like such a lovely book.

Essjay said...

Thanks guys. Aw, Emma - thank you! Oh, and sorry about books :-D

Bookastic said...

What a wonderful summary! You made it so detailed!