I’m sure BREADCRUMBS has already been covered by someone for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, but I’m going to do it anyway. There was so much hype about this book when it came out–and not just from the author’s agent* and publisher, both of whom I follow on Twitter. I had read one other book by Anne Ursu that I enjoyed but didn’t love, so I didn’t have this one at the top of my TBR list. Now that I have read it, I can say it absolutely lives up to the hype. This book is beautifully written with a bittersweet story of friendship and looking for a place to belong. If you haven’t picked it up yet, do it!
Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. But that was before he stopped talking to her and disappeared into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Now it’s up to Hazel to go in after him. 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.
And here are the five things I loved most about the book.
1. The two-part structure – Based on the description above, it sounds like the story will start with the journey into the forest, and that’s what I expected when I started reading. It doesn’t, but that’s ok. I didn’t feel cheated at all. Part I sets the tone for Part II. It establishes the friendship between Hazel and Jack, Hazel’s belief in magic, and Hazel’s desire to belong. Part II moves into a completely different world without it feeling like an unearned twist. When it happens, you’re ready for it, and you realize you needed every bit of the setup in Part I. Well done, Ms. Ursu.
2. Doing what’s right vs. what’s easy – Hazel never gives up on Jack, even when she knows it may not result in happily ever after. I won’t explain that further as I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read the book yet. This particular theme also comes up in scenarios beyond Jack. Hazel’s strength in the face of her own pain–physical and emotional–is inspiring.
3. Literary references – I love the way Anne Ursu worked in so many literary references. Just count how many there are in this one paragraph:
“She had stepped into the woods in the park and landed in an entirely different place. She knew this might happen. She’d been to Narnia, Wonderland, Hogwarts, Dictionopolis. She had tessered, fallen through the rabbit hole, crossed the ice bridge into the unknown world beyond. Hazel knew this world. And it should have made this easier.”
Younger readers probably won’t recognize some of them–heck, there are even a couple I don’t know. (Looks like I need to put THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH on my TBR list.) And Ms. Ursu doesn’t only include classic references. There’s also a nod to a more recent novel, WHEN YOU REACH ME:
“She opened up the new library book she’d brought for the bus ride and willed her thoughts to disappear in the pages. The girl in it was reading A Wrinkle in Time. She was best friends with a boy who lived in the apartment below. And then one day the boy stopped talking to her. Hazel closed the book.”
I hope the kids reading BREADCRUMBS love it enough to ask about the books Hazel’s reading and pick them up, too.
4. Breadcrumbs – And by this I mean the actual word “breadcrumbs.” It’s dropped into the story in such a masterful way. When I finished reading, I actually thought I’d seen it a dozen times, but when I did a word search on my Kindle, it was only four. That’s a testament to how powerful it was when it showed up. Since there are only four, I can list them.
“They would bring breadcrumbs, and they would cross through the line of trees to see what awaited them.”
“You could trace his path through the house by the little drips that still lingered everywhere like breadcrumbs.”
“The compass would lead her to Jack, and then guide her home. Who needed breadcrumbs?”
“It was like they’d taken their planned trip into the woods–except then going home would have been as simple as following the breadcrumbs they’d scattered together.”
5. Hazel’s heritage – I really liked the way Anne Ursu unraveled Hazel’s background so you understood her ethnicity without it being an overt statement. And even though it did affect her sense of self, it didn’t define her. It was also interesting the way it came into play when she met the couple in the forest who shared her heritage. The encounter helped her figure out where she really belonged, and it didn’t have anything to do with the color of her skin.
I’m sure many of you have read BREADCRUMBS. What did you think? Did it live up to the hype for you?
*Anne Ursu is represented by Tina Wexler of ICM.