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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: 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.

Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs wasn't quite what I was expecting. For some unknown reason, I had assumed that the novel would immediately launch into something at least vaguely recognizable as "The Snow Queen," but that wasn't the case. In retrospect, this makes sense and gives Breadcrumbs a modern, semi-believable feel. It is, in some ways, comparable to the Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

It wasn't until Hazel begins her trek through the magical woods to rescue her best friend that I truly fell for this story. I generally don't pick up middle grade level novels, but I'm making a distinct effort to venture outside of the YA realm. Picking up Breadcrumbs is the result of this effort - and marks my first foray into MG in quite some time. Because of this, I am still not completely comfortable with the MG pace and voice, which was especially present in the beginning of the novel. Once Hazel entered the forest, these troubling aspects faded into the background. I think that if I read more MG this probably would not have been the case, but I'm not used to the thinking of younger characters just yet.

The description of people and things Hazel encounters within the forest - and the stories she hears and lessons she learns - are what truly set Breadcrumbs apart. I loved the magical explanations for the disappointments of everyday life. Hazel and her best friend, Jack, didn't just grow apart, there was something much more complicated, and fantastical, going on.

I feel that if I read more MG, I might be more aware of certain nuances and other characteristics that set this book apart, but as of right now, I am only aware of the fact that Breadcrumbs is a very special novel. It's difficult for me to explain why, but I know that I would have adored this novel when I was younger, especially as I transitioned from elementary school to middle school and was experiencing the loss of my old friends and acquiring new acquaintances. I highly recommend Breadcrumbs to children and adults alike.

Walden Pond Press, Hardcover, September 2011, ISBN: 9780062015051, 313 pages


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