Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu 2011 (ARC)
Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins
IQ "She was so busy thinking about the one she needed to rescue she didn't think at all about the one she was leaving behind." Hazel pg. 249
Once upon a time Hazel and Jack were best friends. They live in Minneapolis and while Hazel hates her fifth grade class she is able to bear it because Jack is in the classroom next door. But then Jack abruptly stops talking to her and disappears into a forest with a mystery Snow Queen. Hazel knows Jack has a rough life at home but how could he just live her like that? Hazel decides to go after hm, she assumes she will be prepared from all her readings of fairy tales. She soon realizes that fairy tales are not as beautiful and simple as they seem and that the Woods can really change a person, even when you want to stay the same. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen."
There is just no way Hazel is a fifth grader. I don't doubt that she read fairytales, The Wizard of Oz, Narnia books, Harry Potter, etc. but I do have very strong doubts that she would have been able to articulate her thoughts so well. She analyzes literature and people's motives in a way that I'm fairly certain most fifth graders do not do. There are several loose ends in this book. I don't mind most of the loose ends in this book because I enjoyed tying them up but I did want to know the meaning behind the wolves. I am not very familiar with fairytales (most of the ones I know are from TV and those of course are not always accurate) so I'm sure I missed many subtle references, but I did grasp tidbits from other beloved children's books that the author weaves into the story. I really liked how the author made a nod to both classic children's books and more modern children's stories. It is interesting how the author places an emphasis on remembering the people and places we leave behind as we go off on adventures and begin growing up. I chose the Incredible Quote because in most quest-novels the hero rarely considers who they are leaving behind, they may consider WHAT but not the loved ones who have to pick up the pieces and that little sentence captures one aspect of the uniqueness of this book.
I was most surprised by how melancholy the story was but that's not a bad thing, but it is something that should be noted. Growing up is rough but especially for Hazel who is one of the most creative children I've ever read about and who has no interest in becoming friends with children who aren't avid readers and 100% as imaginative as she is. In fact Hazel is far from the perfect protagonist. She doesn't want to take responsibility for her actions and her dependence on fantasy colors her view of reality in some detrimental ways, but it also helps her get through some tough situations as she searches for Jack. At one point Hazel's annoyance with facts is clearly shown "Nobody could accept that she did not want to hear about gaseous balls and layers of atmosphere and refracted light and tiny building blocks of life. The truth of things was always much more mundane than what she could imagine, and she did not understand why people always wanted to replace the marvelous things in her head with this miserable heap of you're-a-fifth-grader-now facts" (pg. 3), when Hazel suppresses her creativity and starts to simply go through the motions of attending school my heart actually broke. This book is depressing because both Hazel and Jack come from unhappy homes, Hazel is adopted from India and that feeds into her isolation at school (being the only Indian girl) but her adopted parents recently divorced and her father has had little contact with her. Jack's mother is mentally ill and his father is also mostly absent. Neither Hazel nor Jack fully understand the problems at home, nor do they want to and so they create fantasy worlds together and go on grand adventures. Until Jack starts hanging out more with other boys his age, he wants to be friends with Hazel too but not spend as much time with her. Hazel and Jack's new friends both feel that he has to make a choice. When Jack decides to leave (after something very mysterious and magical and utterly random occurs) the book successfully keeps readers guessing about the world he (And later Hazel) disappear into. Is it an alternate world? Or is it all in Hazel's imagination? I loved that the author kept me guessing.
The author's writing in Breadcrumbs is absolutely mesmerizing, the very definition of enchanting as she describes the new world Hazel and Jack enter, the eccentric people they meet, the harsh reality of growing up. She fully explores her characters and the scenes she creates, one of the most chilling scenes I thought was the one involving the parents and the flowers. I shudder even thinking about it. I don't think the author tries to gently submerse her readers in the strange new world and she surprised me at how bluntly she shows (I think) that you do need to grow up. Hazel can of course continue to be full of imagination but she also needs to be more open to learning about the world she actually lives in. Hazel's resilience is astonishing and while intellectually she didn't seem to be a fifth grader, her spirit fit her age. Hazel is determined, lively and while she isn't prone to giving up, the thought does cross her mind a few times. Also she goes after Jack based on a somewhat selfish motive. Jack is the only thing that anchors her to the real world and without him she feels lost, she needs him, she needs him to be strong at home both for himself and for her. There were many things I liked about this book but I especially like that the author expects A LOT of her readers. And I think readers will meet her expectations, the story is not very happy or even fun, there are underlying literary references and there are some ice-truths that young readers will either first uncover through reading this book or have already begun to recognize and realize in their own lives.
Disclosure: Received from author for review. Thank you so much!!
PS I am very sad however that since I had an ARC copy the drawings were not all in the book yet. I will have to find a hardcover copy!
PPSS I've decided to donate this book (along with some others) to my local food pantry's 'bookstore' (it's free like a library but the kids/adults keep the books) because this is a story that begs to be passed on.