Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu is an exquisitely written children’s (or tween-aged) novel that expertly weaves fairy tales into realism. Hazel, the adopted daughter of two recently-divorced parents, is a bit of a misfit. She fidgets, thinks and speaks beyond her years (often confusing her critical peers), and is harder on herself than most professional athletes. Hazel is honest, confused, hopeful, and curious…all of which makes for an intriguing character.
Her best friend and neighbor, Jack, is not nearly as complex. A normal fifth grader who enjoys baseball and drawing comics, Jack is only ever confused about whether he wants to play kickball with the guys at recess, or discuss his new comic book characters with Hazel. But his home life changes drastically one day, leaving Jack sad and looking for a way out. Which he finds in the Snow Queen.
Hazel learns of the circumstances of Jack’s disappearance from Tyler, a rival classmate and friend of Jack’s. She decides instantly that she is meant to save him, despite only being in her tennis shoes. (One of the defining moments for me in this tale was when she debates- only for a moment- with going back home to get her snow boots, but decides against it because it will waste precious Jack-saving time…how profound.)
Numerous fairy tales are referenced in this book- some overtly and some less so- namely The Snow Queen, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter, and Hansel and Gretel. The individuals and groups she encounters each have their own dilemma, some of which come from the aforementioned fairy tales.
Let me also mention that, while reading this novel at 5:30am (I couldn’t sleep…) I felt that many of the more creepy or problematic characters Hazel met along her way to save Jack alluded to contemporary issues such as divorce, depression, and…I saw drug abuse and/or an obsession with body image in the swan creature…but please tell me if I’m wrong. I’ve never been a fairy tale person, so perhaps I was reading too much into it? Have you read it? Am I right, or way off?
Lastly…I loved her writing as much as I love Neil Gaiman’s in The Graveyard Book. Really wonderfully executed.
A few lines I thought were just beautifully constructed:
“Hazel could not help put stop and stare at it- this, the biggest tree in the world. There was a flickering within the leaves, birds that made their universe inside the mammouth cloud of branches. She wondered if they even knew about the sky.” p.174
“Jack hesitated still, and Hazel wanted to say something comforting, to give him some bright plastic flowers of words, but Jack would see them for what they were. Jack knew how to see things.” p.310