Snow fell to the ground outside while I read Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. I took this to be a sign, a sign that something magical was happening. And it was. For books are magical things, good books, even more so. Books can take you away, move you to another planet, or another realm, or just across street…and into the woods. The woods are magical too, you see.
Hazel and Jack have been friends since they were six years old. They shared their joy, the grief and their bountiful imaginations. Jack was Hazel’s lifeline in her new school, a school where imagination wasn’t appreciated and paying close attention was essential. With Jack, Hazel belonged. She fit in. Until one day, she didn’t. One day, after an accident on the playground, Jack stops wanting to hang around with Hazel, and she doesn’t know why. Then Jack does the worst thing of all. He disappears. He’s been taken by the white witch (which Narnia got from her, by the way), and it’s up to Hazel to get him back. This takes Hazel on a journey into the magical woods, which tests her heart and her head. Will she have the courage to do what is needed to get Jack back, and will Jack ever be the same best friend he was again?
Ursu’s Breadcrumbs is based upon Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, but it owes a debt to many other works as well. Normally, I don’t like it when books are too referential to contemporary works (it can badly date them; see: The Princess Diaries), but in Ursu’s world, it only adds to the magic. Among the works referenced are the Harry Potter series, The Golden Compass, the aforementioned works of Narnia, Coraline, When You Reach Me, The Phantom Tollbooth and others. What this does is give credence to Hazel’s knowledge of how stories should go. When Jack’s friend says he saw Jack being taken away by a woman in white, Hazel knows what this means. Her knowledge of the tenets of fantasy saves her in the woods (as does some sheer dumb luck).
As pointed out by Fuse 8’s Betsy Bird, “The Snow Queen” is a great metaphor for puberty. (Breadcrumbs is actually the second time I’ve seen this story used in such a capacity this past year, the first being Catherine Breillat’s film, The Sleeping Beauty). Boy and girl are friends, boy and girl grow up, and the friendship changes. Thankfully, Hazel is the kind of character who isn’t going to let this slide, isn’t going to let her best friend disappear without a fight. She’s a little bit lost and uncertain, but much stronger than she knows. She rightfully takes her place among the fantasy heroes and heroines she admires so much, just as Breadcrumbs should and will take its place among the books that inspired it.
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu