Book Review: “Breadcrumbs” by Anne Ursu

Hazel’s Mom wants her to find new friends–girl friends. She’s just not so sure about Hazel and Jack’s best-friendship. She knows how tenuous those can become once adolescence begins.

The girls at Hazel’s school want to know if she and Jack are “going out.” Hazel feels like maybe she should say yes, because then maybe they’d think she was likeable enough that someone would want to go out with her. But she isn’t “going out” with Jack. She doesn’t want to “go out” with Jack. He’s her best friend.

“And there was a time when everyone understood that, but they didn’t anymore, because apparently when you get to be a certain age you’re supposed to wake up one morning and not want to be best friends with your best friend anymore, just because he’s a boy and you don’t have a messenger bag.”

Except that one day, Hazel wakes up and her best friend doesn’t want to be friends with her anymore.

Why did I love Breadcrumbs as much as I did? What made it shine so brightly among the myriads of children’s stories available?

Like Amy said in her review, I have a hard time articulating my reasons.

But I’ll try nonetheless.

First, and perhaps most strongly, I loved the literary allusions in this story.

Savvy readers can probably already figure out that this story is at least somehow related to Hansel and Gretel. But the story is just as much (or more) a retelling of the less familiar “The Snow Queen”. But the references to other works don’t stop there. I know I didn’t catch all the references, because I’m not as widely read in children’s fantasy as I could be, but I caught references to Chronicles of Narnia, Coraline, Alice in the Wonderland, Harry Potter, and pretty much every Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.

Second, I loved this story for how it captured a tension between the wonder of fairy tales and “cold science”.

Hazel hates how everyone tries to tell her the boring scientific explanations for everything when she’s caught in the magic that is snow or whatever. When Jack’s soul goes cold (for that is what happened to him), he suddenly finds fairy tales incomprehensible but math makes perfect sense. Yet math and science aren’t completely placed outside the realm of imagination. Jack has arranged imaginary stats for his superhero baseball team. The imaginative Uncle Martin delights in the geometry of snowflakes.

Third, I love this book for its description of the woods.

The book is split in two–the first half is set in the normal world of school children, the second half in the wild woods not far from the sledding hill. The first half is ordinary with occasional asides into fairy tale, the second half is fairy tale with occasional flashbacks into “reality”. The second half was my favorite.

You see, people go into the woods because they’re desperate. Desperate people prey on other desperate people; desperate people fall prey to other desperate people. Everyone there is either predator or prey, desperately seeking something they somehow failed to find in the “real world”.

It might seem that the woods are a fantasy world completely separated from reality, but really, it’s an unveiling of reality–pulling back the mundane details of daily activities to show the heart.

Finally (for now), I loved this book because it’s a story of friendship against fierce foes.

Hazel and Jack are friends, just friends, not boyfriend-and-girlfriend. I love this, in an age where boys and girls are encouraged to “likey-likey” stuff at younger and younger ages. But that doesn’t mean that non-romantic girl-boy friendship is seen as particularly normal or easy. In fact, Hazel and Jack are constantly at odds with the reality that boy-girl friendships don’t usually last through the transition from child to teen.

Their friendship might not last through this adventure. Jack might be changed. Hazel might be changed. When Hazel sets out to rescue her friend Jack, she has no promises that life might return to usual. She might be able to rescue Jack, but she has no illusions that she’ll be able to get her friend back. She has to selflessly choose to rescue her friend–even if she rescues him only to find that he’s not her friend anymore.

I love this. I love how this speaks of real love, not the smarmy stuff found in so many stories. And I love how this story ends. It’s perfectly fitting.

This is truly a good story.

Rating:5 Stars
Category:Middle Grade Fantasy
Synopsis:Hazel ventures into the woods to rescue her friend Jack, who has been taken away by an enchantress.
Recommendation: Read this book. It’s great.