We’re a long way into the Once Upon a Time challenge, and I’ve finally read a fairy tale retelling! Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu was recommended to me by Katy (AKA, A Library Mama) long ago, and she was absolutely right. It was a wonderful retelling of the Snow Queen–loosely, though a lot closer than Frozen was!
Hazel and Jack have been best friends since they were six years old. But now they’re eleven, both facing challenges at home, and their friendship is changing. The adults say this is just normal drifting apart, but Hazel doesn’t know how to live in her life when the only place she feels she belongs is with Jack. When Jack disappears and Hazel hears a story that he disappeared into the woods with a mysterious pale woman, she sets off to rescue him, whether he still wants to be friends or not.
I loved Hazel. I often read books where the hero/ine is fine but doesn’t especially grab me. Hazel was one who grabbed me. I have a soft spot for kid characters who are sensitive and imaginative and unappreciated by the adults in their lives. Hazel is a good kid trying to be a good friend to Jack, and not always making the “right” choice. Both kids are dealing with things that I think are even tougher than they realize themselves. Jack’s mother has serious depression, Hazel’s father recently left her and her mother, and neither kid fits well in a school that doesn’t value imaginative thinking.
We get just enough before things start to go bad to see that Jack and Hazel have this very special (platonic, just to be clear) friendship. Both are imaginative and love stories of magic and dragons and adventure, and play games that the other kids don’t understand. We really feel Hazel’s pain when Jack turns away from her.
I also like the complicated ambiguity of the last portion of the book as Hazel sets out to rescue Jack. She’s not certain that he wants her to, or that he’ll want to be friends again even if she does, but she does it anyway. It says something really beautiful about how much she cares about him. It also really nicely highlights the complexity of friendship when friends are changing. It’s a coming of age thing, but really it’s an every age thing, as we all have friendships change as we change.
The magic is well-done too, drawing inspiration from many fairy tales and classic fantasies. This is the Snow Queen, in broad strokes, but there are hints of other stories too. The writing is beautiful as well, lyrical in places and with lovely gems of wisdom here and there.
We start getting little references and homages to other stories (and sometimes geek cultural references) right from the beginning of the book, while we’re still in the real world. Hazel knows these things, so she makes remarks involving them. And I love that Ursu doesn’t explain. For example, Hazel looks out at the snow and thinks it’s so deep only a tauntaun could get across it—and no clarification that that’s a Star Wars references. Or the White Queen, as she abducts Jack, looks amused and asks if he’d like any Turkish Delight. He doesn’t get it and she says never mind and it’s up to the reader to recognize the Narnia connection. And I love that the references aren’t explained because it makes me feel so in the know, and so like Hazel/Ursu and I have this common shared knowledge.
One last note, this also applies for my diversity challenge (a happy discovery as I began the book). Hazel is Indian, adopted as a baby by an American family. This isn’t a major part of the story, not the main reason she doesn’t fit in at school, but it does surface some in the magical world as she struggles with her own history.
It’s fun when I have a book review that’s pretty much, “here are all the delightful things I loved about this book,” and I think that’s what this one is! It really was a delightful read, and I’ll need to make a note to see what else Ursu has written…
Author’s Site: http://anneursu.com/
Buy it here: Breadcrumbs