Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn’t help it – Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn’t fit anywhere else.

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it’s never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack’s heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it’s up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she’s read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn’t the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.

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.

You can read an excerpt here.


Breadcrumbs is simply a beautiful, beautiful story.

Not since The Last Unicorn have I been this enthralled by the opening of a book. Breadcrumbs begins with a little girl lost and alone – but not in the usually fairy tale sense. Hazel is lost in her real-world life of Minnesota – her parents’ recent divorce means no father, no money, and no more of her old school. Hazel tries to fit in, but she’s all wrong – there’s no place for her imagination at public school – and everyone, from her teachers to the kids at school to her mother, make her fully aware that it’s all her fault. What Hazel does have is her best friend, Jack, a boy with family troubles of his own – until the day that suddenly Jack isn’t her friend anymore, and Hazel doesn’t know why.

The opening of this story is very, very beautifully done. Hazel is so confused and lonely and sad, and she just can’t figure out how to change, how to be what everyone wants her to be. Ursu brilliantly captures that moment when everything suddenly changes and we don’t know why, and that painful time when children are made to grow up. As a kid who was terrified every day on my way to first grade because public school was so very, very different from the kindergarten I had known, this story resonated very, VERY powerfully with me.

The story then takes a turn for the fantastical when Jack is suddenly hit with a magical shard and whisked away by the Snow Queen – and despite the fact that he stopped being her friend, Hazel goes after him, because she never stopped being his. The magical means of Jack’s estrangement from Hazel felt a bit abrupt, and I found myself not quite as entranced by this story once it crossed over into a full on traditional fairy tale landscape. Again this story reminded me of The Last Unicorn, in that while the story remained very good – Hazel’s magical journey, while a bit out of left field, was inventive and interesting – it just lost a bit of its bewitching power over me as it carried on.

Still, Hazel’s emotional journey is lovely to behold, and Ursu’s melding of contemporary and fairy tale is downright brilliant. The magic of freshly falling snowflakes meshes seamlessly with fairy tale wonder, and Ursu makes it very, very easy to believe the two worlds are closer than we thought. As a girl who grew up in Maine, I can attest to how perfectly Ursu captures the magic of freshly powdered snow.

As a girl struggling to save the magic of her childhood, Hazel is in some ways destined to fail – there are some things we can’t hold onto, no matter how hard we try – but we can’t help but love her for trying. A subtle bittersweetness permeates this tale, and it just is heart achingly beautiful to read.

A powerful tale of loss and friendship, and far and away the best fairy tale retelling I’ve read this year, Breadcrumbs is the kind of story that stays with you long after you’ve finished. A lovely, lovely book.

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Abby the Librarian says:

This is a story that will stick with you. It’s a quiet sort of book, a fairy tale based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and just like the snow, the story sneaks in through cracks and blows in under doors until you can’t get it out of your head.

The Midnight Garden says:

The strongest and most compelling part of this book for me was how the author so seamlessly modernized this classic story. It is extremely difficult to retain the fairy tale elements of timelessness and mystery and magic while working in unforced contemporary references, but the author managed to do so with a great deal of ease and charm.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) says:

A sadness as heavy as a Northwoods snowfall pervades this story, though it has its delights, too. Ursu offers many winks at avid fans of fairy tales and fantasy (Jack’s mother looks “like someone had severed her daemon”). The creepy fantasyland that Hazel traverses uses bits from other Andersen tales to create a story that, though melancholy, is beautifully written and wholly original