Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (2011)

A boy got a splinter in his eye, and his heart turned cold. Only two people noticed. One was a witch, and she claimed him for her own. The other was his best friend. And she went after him in ill-considered shoes, brave and completely unprepared (p 155).

Hazel does not fit in at her new school. Most of the children treat her differently though she doesn’t understand why. At home, her mother struggles to provide for her after her father left. Her one happiness is her best friend, Jack. Jack does not belittle her thinking differently and imaginatively. Instead, they are partners in adventure. But Jack also befriends the very boys who tease Hazel, splitting his time deftly between her and them.

One day, a shard from an enchanted mirror enters through his eye and goes directly to his heart. Jack changes. He is mean to Hazel. Then he disappears all together.

Now it is up to Hazel to enter the woods and rescue her friend, Jack, the Prince of Eternity.

Breadcrumbs is, in many ways, a book about books. I counted references to at least ten different titles including: The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, The Golden Compass, The Snow Queen, Harry Potter, The Keys to the Kingdom, When You Reach Me, and Coraline. Hazel is described as a reader and the author pulls from these sources to describe her experiences.

There was a Nithling in her stomach, chomping away at everything around it. Tears filled her eyes, and she squeezed them away (p 74).

Nithlings are fearsome animal-like creatures formed from nothing in Garth Nix’s The Keys to the Kingdom series. For well-read children, these references will add a layer of understanding and connect prior emotional experiences to the current pleasure.

The first part of the story is (too) slow to unfold. It focuses on Hazel’s friendship with Jack, her tense relationship with her mother, and her unhappiness at her new school. We also learn of a mischievous troll-like creature named Mal and his twisted mirror. His magic mirror “took beautiful things and made them ugly, and it took ugly things and made them hideous” (p 70). When this mirror shatters high above earth, a shard falls into Jack’s eye, changing him.

Part Two picks up the pace with Hazel entering the woods. Here we see shades of Anderson’s other fairy tales and here Ursu explores a variety of themes. Her maticulous exposition pays off (for the most part) as Hazel struggles with identity and Jack weighs the painful reality of his distressed home life vesus the cold serenity of the Snow Queen’s palace. I couldn’t put the book down once Hazel entered the woods.

Read other reviews:
Book Smugglers
Fuse #8
Good Books Good Wine
Jenn’s Bookshelves
Kirkus (starred)
Publisher’s Weekly (starred)

Breadcrumbs | Advance Reader Edition | September 27, 2011 | HarperCollins Childrens | ISBN 978-0062015051 | 336 pages | Ages 8-14 | $16.99

The Snow Queen | Hans Christian Anderson | retold by Naomi Lewis and illustrated by Christian Birmingham | $18.99

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