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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.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published September 27, 2011

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About the author

Erin Mcguire

16 books31 followers
Erin McGuire is an illustrator currently living and working in Montreal

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,084 reviews
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews154k followers
May 7, 2021
4.5 stars

A boy got a splinter in his eye, and his heart turned cold. Only two people noticed. One was a witch, and she took him for her own. The other was his best friend. And she went after him in ill-considered shoes, brave and completely unprepared.
Hazel and Jack are were the best of friends. They did everything together and when Hazel swapped schools, they were together all the time.

But then...they have a fight. Not a squabble or an argument - an actual fight.

And after that, Jack is different. Really different.

Then he disappears.

And no one knows - or even cares - except Hazel.
But sometimes you have a friend to rescue. And so you take a deep breath and then step over the line and into the darkness ahead.
It doesn't matter if they had a fight or if he thinks they're no longer friends. Hazel will rescue him. No matter what.
Kids can handle a lot more than you think they can. It's when they get to be grown up that you have to start worrying.
So. This one was actually pretty good.

It did lean heavily (and I mean *heavily* on the Snow Queen at the beginning) and it was to the point where I nearly put it down.

It was about 75ish pages in and not much of a rewrite or reimagination of that story...and honestly, I've read that one enough.

But, I kept going and the story blossomed beautifully.

It's such a shame that so much of it follows the Snow Queen or is wasted on character development because once Hazel wanders into the magical land - and when all the tropes turn completely on their head - I was fascinated.

The book clawed its way from a 2-star book to 5-stars as soon as we sunk into the mystical world.

The garden? The perfect parents with the wire bird cage? The woodcutter? The bloody dancing shoes? It was horrifying and creepy and absolutely riveting.

Also, I loved how Hazel was adopted but the story wasn't ABOUT her adoption. It played a role, but it was not her defining character trait.

And the same goes for Jack with his mother. She was depressed and played a role in Jack's world, but Jack wasn't solely defined by his mother's condition.

This book was really good - just got to wait for the plot to get moving first.

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Profile Image for Wendy Darling.
1,543 reviews33.9k followers
March 15, 2013
If you gently shook a snow globe, you might find that the snowflakes come down on an enchanting story much like this one. Hazel’s best friend Jack has disappeared, and the quiet, scrappy fifth grader must overcome her fears—not to mention a mysterious witch and numerous other challenges—in order to save him.

This lovely story, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, unfolds slowly and beautifully. As an adult who still reads or rereads a lot of children’s books and an avid lover of fairy tales, I was very much looking forward to reading this novel. Hazel turns out to be a brave, imaginative heroine whose love of books and quiet wonder at the world made me overjoyed to find such a kindred spirit. My heart also ached in sympathy for Hazel’s puzzlement and pain over the real life problems she faces, including her adoptive parents’ divorce, her sense of being an outsider as a child of Indian descent, and Jack’s sudden coldness to her before he goes away.

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. Above all, the rift between Jack and Hazel, which is explained away by a cold shard of magical glass that got into his eye, works exceptionally well as a metaphor for growing up, much as it worked for the children of Narnia. The writing is just gorgeous, with wonderful descriptiveness and moments of true beauty. You can practically feel the sting of ice and the flurry of snow on your face as you read this story, and you can definitely feel Hazel’s wistfulness and longing to simply…belong. And to matter, to someone, somehow.

I am a little puzzled by the audience for whom this book is intended, however. The jacket copy lists ages 8 – 12, but the narrative really sounds more like it’s a bedtime story for adults—or perhaps one that’s meant to be read aloud to children. It doesn’t really get into Hazel’s head so much as explain to you what she’s thinking or what it might mean, as there’s a little too much exposition for the reader to be unaware of the adult who is writing it.

And while I was so thrilled with the literary references in the first half of the book, with subtle nods to everything from C.S. Lewis to Philip Pullman to J.K. Rowling, I have to confess that this eventually became a little distracting to me because there were so many of them. I appreciate that Hazel is a voracious reader, and the reader in me rejoiced to be reminded of so many beloved classics, but even with the knowledge that books are her windows to understanding the world, it all became a little too much. The writing is so strong, the images so evocative, and Hazel so thoroughly winning that I didn’t feel as though it was necessary to spend so much time focusing on other books. Some of the fairy tale elements that Hazel encounters later in the forest did interest me quite a bit, especially considering their dreamlike quality, but again, I think this would have been a perfectly strong book on its own--with its own mythology and its own unique feel—without relying so heavily on other people’s stories.

The ending also feels very rushed and rather underdeveloped, in both story and emotional satisfaction. Overall I found that the first two-thirds of the book, as readers get to know Hazel and her quirks and her insecurities, is much more compelling than the last act, when things finally get moving with the big rescue. For while the idea of a child being so immersed in stories is certainly a bewitching one, at some point that child must step out of that fairyland in some way in order for this to be a true story of personal growth.

Still, this is an exquisite book in many ways, and one well worth reading. (Certainly more so than the other recent YA nods to The Snow Queen story, Stork and Frost.) I wouldn’t be surprised to see this as an awards contender when all is said and done, and the book will no doubt deserve it on the strength of its writing and its premise alone. I do wish, however, that this fairy tale had trusted in its own merits—and those of its valiant little heroine—a little more. It could so easily have been something more than merely a charming and well-written homage.

This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Profile Image for karen.
3,976 reviews170k followers
April 17, 2020
growing up is so damn hard.

when this book comes out, i guarantee it will win all the awards and land itself on all the school reading lists. this book couches some pretty devastating life lessons in an alternate realm of dangerous magical fantasy, but it does so without ever once being cutesy.

hazel and jack have been neighbors and best friends forever. hazel was adopted from india as a baby by white american parents who have since separated, jack is the son of a woman who has retreated into this isolating fog of depression, and he has feelings of confusion and guilty resentment in response to the situation. to escape their lonely realities, hazel and jack create fantasy worlds around themselves where superheroes play baseball and robots fight knights, but at the end of the day, they have some unpleasant realities to go home to.

and as time goes on, things change between them.

financial circumstances have forced hazel to leave her fancy progressive school and attend the same public school as jack, who must judiciously divide his time between her and his male school friends. this is the age when boy-and-girl best friends start to be an unusual occurrence, peers start to ask annoying questions, and mothers start trying to un-wild their daughters and encourage them to make nice young lady friends.

and then an intervention of magic occurs, changing jack - driving a wedge between himself and hazel that she cannot see and so cannot understand the sudden change in jack. and this intervention naturally leads jack into the path of the snow queen, who leads him unresistingly away to her snow fortress.

it could have been silly. it could have been trite, but it's not. ursu's writing is layered, making magpie references to literature both contemporary and classic, with good results. i am not usually a fan of pluck, but this imaginative, bookish, damaged, and -yes- plucky heroine really won my heart. her bewilderment comes alive, and brings back plenty of memories of feeling frustrated and feeling that everything was unfair and bigger than oneself.

of course she goes after jack. of course she has many adventures along the way. in a way it is selflessness, but more precisely it is self-preservation, because she is at the age when your best friend is part of your self, and to lose jack, she is losing the center of her world.

but, yeah, there's some baby-martyrdom here:

i love that.

this is a lovely, bittersweet tale of growing up and growing apart, and the way our selves are fragmented as we go. i am so grateful i was part of this "passing of the ARC" chain, and it is with great ceremony that i mail it off to meredith. enjoy!!

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Profile Image for Terri.
917 reviews31 followers
January 10, 2012
Am I the only one who didn't like this book? "Breadcrumbs" was on a mock awards list for the book club I am in. I had a really hard time getting through it. I always try to read a book through the lens of the intended reader. That generally, though not always, is someone the approximate age of the protagonist, in this case a fifth grader named Hazel. I am afraid that, though the story is at times exquisite in terms of writing, much of the language, the use of metaphor, and the proliferation of allusions to both classic and contemporary literature would be lost on most nine and ten year olds. This left me with the question: who is this book really written for?

First impressions: I feel the cover is cheap looking - it doesn't say "quality writing found here." For that reason, I put off reading this book as long as I could. The first half of the book appears to be contemporary realistic fiction. Though I very much like Hazel, her angst gets to be annoying and creepy after awhile in this portion of the book. Hazel is dealing with the divorce of her parents, with the feeling of being different and invisible, and with her changing relationship with Jack. Jack is dealing with his mother's mental illness and his changing relationship with Hazel and the boys his age. For a nine year old, Hazel does some pretty complex pondering and seems unrealistically self-aware.

The sudden appearance of the fantasy element in the second half of the book is very jarring and unexpected. There are no hints that it is coming, no smooth transition into fantasy. As a result, it is really difficult to suspend disbelief. In addition, the ending is sudden and doesn't really resolve anything. Hazel follows Jack into the fantasy world that exists once they cross the tree line into the woods. She misses her friend and is going to rescue him from the white witch. She rescues him from the white witch who appears to want nothing from either Hazel or Jack and puts up no resistance. No big climactic moment. They just walk away and find themselves back home where nothing has really been changed or resolved.

I am often shocked at choices made during award season. Though adults might find books like "Breadcrumbs" award-winning, would the intended audience find them award-winning? It is always interesting to compare "best" lists that teens come up with for a particular year with those that actually win the awards. The books teens pick are often poo-pooed as "popular" literature by adults. Ironic. What then is "success" as a writer if the intended audience has little or no interest in reading a book you have written, quality literature or not?

This book was not for me, nor do I think it will be for most nine and ten year olds. I'm just saying...
Profile Image for Small Review.
610 reviews207 followers
October 12, 2015
Originally posted on Small Review

2.5 stars Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key

I'm back in my secret bunker

Why? Because I didn't really like Breadcrumbs. To say my expectations were high is an understatement. I love fairy tale retellings, the cover is beautiful, and a friend even mailed me her copy to read (after she loved it). People are even talking Newbery!

I have a lot to hide from.

I am the wrong reader for this book

Yes, Breadcrumbs is a fairy tale retelling, but it is also a contemporary and deals with issues of depression, friends growing apart, divorce, adoption, and not fitting in. Hazel is so incredibly lost and her sadness is a tangible thing. I didn't expect any of this going in, so I was very shocked when half of the book focused solely on these topics.

Breadcrumbs is broken into two mostly equal-length parts. Part one is almost completely contemporary and only contains one tiny bit of fantasy (which is more metaphorical than fantastical). This section follows Hazel as she struggles with all of those issues I mentioned.

I was totally bored with this part. I'm not really a contemporary reader, and I'm really not a contemporary issues reader. Between Jack's mother's depression, Hazel's absent (through recent divorce and remarriage) father, Jack's falling out with Hazel, and Hazel's difficulties in school, I felt completely bogged down with sadness. And boredom. I just don't like reading about these sorts of things.

I couldn't relate

Breadcrumbs uses the third-person omniscient narration style, with a sometimes focus on Hazel's perspective. I had a really hard time getting into the book because of this narration style and the randomness of its application.

Sometimes it felt like an adult voice, sort of like a "Once upon a time" type of narrator. Other times it felt like the voice of Hazel, which seemed to me like a very young MG or even elementary school voice. I never felt like I could settle into the story due to these changes in narration voice.

Usually I'm ok with MG book, even when they're written on the younger end, but Hazel felt a little too young for my tastes. I also had difficulty connecting with her personality so I never felt invested in her or her story. That isn't to say there is something wrong with the way Hazel is written. We're just very different people.

Hazel is an extremely imaginative girl and I'm...not. At least, not like Hazel. She's so focused on her imaginings that her dreamy tendencies are causing her trouble in school. This is another point I could not relate to at all because I was the most anal rule-following elementary school kid imaginable.

Part 2, or when the fairy tale finally started

I was a lot more engaged with part 2 due to the fantasy aspects. Hazel's wandering through the woods in search of Jack felt almost like Alice's experiences in Wonderland (which I never liked, and didn't love it in this version either).

Hazel encounters many different fairy tale characters, but they're not the ones you might expect. Anne Ursu incorporated a bunch of the more obscure Grimms' tales, but these tended to be the darker stories (think chopped off limbs, torture, and death).

I liked this for its freshness, but I was kind of bummed that part 2 carried over the sad, oppressive feelings that part 1 focused on.

What kind of reader IS a good match?

I couldn't help but wonder who I would give this book to in my library. Hazel's voice is so young, but the fairy tales would probably disturb my younger library kids who might otherwise relate to her (I can't speak for your kids or library kids). There isn't much resolution of Hazel's real life troubles, and there are no happy endings with the fairy tale aspects.

If it weren't for the lack of resolution (and for some kids, the darker elements) I would have recommended Breadcrumbs in a heartbeat. Any kid going through similar problems to the ones Hazel experiences in part 1 would probably find Breadcrumbs extremely easy to relate to. They would also probably find it comforting to see their situations so sensitively mirrored.

The lack of resolution gives me pause though. The Snow Queen story arc is resolved, but in real life kids who experience a break with a childhood friend aren't going to find their solution so easily. While they may related to Hazel's difficulties in school or her situation with her parents' divorce, Breadcrumbs offers very little in terms of a happy ending or way of coping (in fact, pretty much all of those plot points are left as loose ends).

So who WILL like Breadcrumbs? Adults, I think. Anne Ursu does a beautiful job using imagery and fantasy elements as a metaphor for Hazel's issues. There is much to discuss from a literary standpoint and the characters as emotional vignettes are palpably drawn.

I don't feel like the book came together in a cohesive manner (too many different directions, loose ends, inconsistencies in voice) but each individual part was well-written. The very thing I didn't like--the oppressive sadness--is in itself a testament to Anne Ursu's ability to powerfully convey the emotional state of her characters.

Bottom line

Not for me. I wasn't feeling Hazel or the story (or really much of anything beyond this is so depressing) and I didn't like how so much time was spent in the contemporary world (only to abandon pretty much all of those threads in part 2).

There were a few bright spots that caught my attention (Hazel's friend's uncle, the presentation of some of the fairy tales--though NOT The Snow Queen), but I disliked Breadcrumbs more than I liked it.

I'd take my review with a grain of salt though because what this all boils down to is Breadcrumbs and I were just a case of "Wrong book, wrong reader." For a review from a reader who loved Breadcrumbs, head on over to Buried in Books.

Originally posted on Small Review
Profile Image for Anna.
3 reviews1 follower
March 5, 2012
No book is more challenging to read than one that promises so much and delivers so little. It makes you question those who loved it and your own interpretations and reactions. BREADCRUMBS is one such book. In four and a half years of nightly family read-alouds, this is the only book we (two adults, one 8-year-old boy) ever considered not finishing; the only one with so little enjoyment that we felt it wasn't worth our time. We did stick it out, but it was a frustrating and unrewarding struggle.

BREADCRUMBS, written by Anne Ursu, tells the story of Hazel Anderson, a Minneapolis fifth-grader who is concerned that her best friend, Jack, has been magically altered or injured so that his personality is completely changed. When Jack appears to go missing, she treks into the woods to find him and bring him home. The first half of the book deals with Hazel's school and home experiences and her worry over Jack; the second half details her experiences in the woods by way of small vignettes with a variety of characters from Hans Christian Andersen's tales. Ms. Ursu references (and lifts from) numerous classic fantasy works throughout, from NARNIA to THE GOLDEN COMPASS to CORALINE to THE HOBBIT, and attempts to weave a magical vein throughout the story until Hazel's final confrontation with Jack.

Unfortunately, the promise of that outline goes unfulfilled, largely due to the deep unlikability of the main character. My son at first thought that Hazel just didn't seem very "alive"; by the end he was bored by her self-centeredness. My partner thought that the author couldn't possibly be creating such a self-involved character without going on to prove that she was so, and thereby having her grow and reflect on her past actions. I harbored no such illusions: I felt from the beginning that Hazel was selfish, self-absorbed, self-pitying, and ignorant of any other perspective than her own. Sadly, she remained that way nearly through the end of the story: it took until page 250 of a 312-page book for Hazel to commit her first selfless act, and she is by no means "cured" of her selfishness from that point on. Frankly, it was far too little, far too late; there was no recovering at that point as we slogged through to the end.

What went wrong? On the surface, Hazel has the trappings of a great main character. She is bright, creative, imaginative, and caring. She has a sympathetic outsider perspective because of her heritage: she was adopted as an infant from India by her White parents, who are now divorced. A few months before BREADCRUMBS starts she is transplanted from a wealthy private school to a public one, and continues to struggle with bullying and fitting in. All of this makes Hazel sound like a prime character to embark on a quest and discover herself.

This does not happen, and the fault is in the writing. We never actually see Hazel being bright or creative or imaginative; we are only told that she was considered so at her last school. We do get a glimpse of imagination when she participates in story invention with her acquaintance Adelaide, but she is no more creative than Adelaide is. Her friend Jack is actually the one with the most imagination; he draws comics and makes up games that Hazel greedily devours, but does not contribute to herself. Hazel's difficulty with being Indian in a primarily White school is illustrated once in a flashback in which Hazel describes seeing another girl of color at a school gathering and attempting half-heartedly to connect with her. But the scene suffers from the same self-absorbtion as the rest of the story: a similar encounter was described much more poignantly (and succinctly) in Bette Bao Lord's IN THE YEAR OF THE BOAR AND JACKIE ROBINSON.

As far as Hazel's supposed capacity for caring, this is grossly misrepresented. Hazel does not care for Jack so much as she is obsessed with him. She is consumed with possessing his attention and time, and only grudgingly "allows" him to spend time with any other friends. She makes no effort to try to get along with those friends, and only waits, sullenly, until Jack is ready to be "hers" again. She has no pastimes or interests or activities outside of what Jack brings her; despite her constant literary references I don't believe we ever actually see Hazel enjoying a book. She reads, but it is only to kill time. At one point Hazel states that "nothing really happened to her unless she told Jack about it", and this is entirely true. There is nothing in herself that makes herself Hazel; that makes her real and alive and sympathetic.

And yet the author never acknowledges this in any way. For someone clearly familiar with children's literature, Ms. Ursu would have done well to utilize the key element of underdog charm: the promotion of self without the condemnation of others. For instance, THE GOLDEN COMPASS' Lyra, another girl on a quest to save a friend, finds strength in herself without putting down those around her. Diana Wynne Jones' Christopher Chant (THE CHRONICLES OF CHRESTOMANCI), who actually IS the center of his universe(s) and comes from a family more isolated and troubled than Hazel's, looks back on his self-centeredness and realizes his mistakes. He revisits past encounters, feels remorse and shame, and uses his new knowledge to move forward. Cynthia Voigt's Dicey, Mina, and Jeff (THE TILLERMAN CYCLE) are separated from their peers by combinations of class, race, personality, and history, yet suffer and work through their differences while letting those around them just be. Even Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet Welsch (HARRIET THE SPY, THE LONG SECRET), prickly and critical throughout, learns to see life more clearly by watching how others experience it. All of these flawed characters are wonderful because their imperfections mold their personalities as they learn to grow and accept them. Most importantly, they learn how to see through eyes other than their own.

These authors clearly loved their characters. Yet they did not let that love blind them to their many faults. In contrast, I strongly felt that Ms. Ursu was insufferably smug in her approval of Hazel's actions. All in the guise of "being an outsider," Hazel judges everyone around her (teachers, family, kids, former friends) and dismisses help when it is offered. In turn, she does absolutely nothing to help herself: she never draws on her "creativity" or "imagination" to create a world or to define herself. Everyone and everything is genuinely presented either to be against her or for her use. In the forest she comes across three women who don't give Hazel what she wants, and she responds with "They were supposed to help her. Why were they there, if not to help her?" Ms. Ursu displays no irony or awareness when writing these sentiments; she clearly feels that Hazel is indeed being dealt an unfair blow. At school, Hazel is bullied. But in her own way, she bullies back by continually stating, mostly to herself and at times to others, how the ignorant kids aren't up to her level, how the teachers are cruel idiots, and how she can't ever get what she wants in life due to other people's failure to correctly set up the world. Here is where the writing is at its worst: it creaks and clunks across the page, managing to be desperately overwrought and still empty of any real feeling. Over and over again for the entire first half of the story we are treated to lengthy, heavy-handed descriptions of Hazel's isolation and suffering; isolation she has, in part, created for herself by her snobbery, and suffering that is no less self-inflicted by her melodramatic self-absorption. Jack's act of "meanness" is hardly so, but Hazel never stops to think that maybe he had a bad day? Maybe he wants to do something else for an afternoon? Maybe he's socially awkward around different friends? Or maybe he genuinely doesn't like her anymore? All of which are possible...but not to Hazel, for whom a moment of mild rejection is the end of her myopic world, signifying insidious, malevolent magics at work. The fact that she was right and they WERE at work only supports Ms. Ursu's position that Hazel is correct in what she does, that she sees more clearly than others, that she is better than they are. If you step back and see what actually happens with an impartial eye, such a claim is not only ludicrous, it is offensive.

The damage is done early and often, but the second half of the book is no more enjoyable to read. The two halves of the story have little to do with each other stylistically, save the overblown writing. Over the last 75 pages, less time is spent bemoaning Hazel's state (although we are by no means reprieved of this), which would sound promising if the story weren't so deeply mired in dullness: the fairy-tale vignettes barely connect to each other save by a menacing-nature theme which goes nowhere. And as I stated earlier, any redeeming quality (we as a family could count them on one hand and have fingers left over) was too little, too late. It would have taken a huge act of skill to make Hazel likable and make her journey worth reading. BREADCRUMBS was not capable of this act.

This is a lengthy review, I know. But I wrote it because so many people apparently loved this story; I wrote it to explain my (our) deep disagreement with its entire approach, not to dismiss it out of hand as if I hadn't read and measured it thoughtfully. For some reason, we all were so excited to read it: the artwork is lovely and the jacket descriptions and quotes enticing. But it in no way delivered what we thought we'd get out of it. My son hoped for a quest to spirits, creatures, and nature. My partner hoped for symbolism and a link to myths and tales past. I hoped for something otherworldly, a gem of a story to add to the pantheon. We all hoped for magic. We were all sorely disappointed.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,386 reviews11.8k followers
August 10, 2011
I am not a regular reader of children's books and certainly not their connoisseur. Literature aimed at elementary school students is not something I actively seek or even enjoy at my age. But sometimes there are children's books that touch me in a special way.

Breadcrumbs managed to bring out the memories of my childhood like no other book before. This modern day retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen is an homage to all the wonderful stories of my childhood and some that captured my imagination in adult years - The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, When You Reach Me, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and many, many more. Incidentally, The Snow Queen was a big part of my childhood too. I still remember very clearly Gerda's quest to save her best friend Kai after he was whisked away by the Snow Queen to the Queen's cold, cold ice castle.

While Anne Ursu stays very close to Hans Christian Andersen's original story, preserving the tale's sense of loneliness and coldness, she adapts it perfectly to modern times. The children have modern troubles - Jack's mother is going through a deep depression, Hazel has to deal with her adoptive parents' divorce and to bring herself to fit in a new, difficult and different school. Ursu's best addition to the old fairly tale, IMO, is her interpretation of the enchanted forest (with the Snow's Queen's castle at the end of it) as a place of retreat for the souls who want to escape their troubled real lives. Such place can be very attractive from the outside, but it is gruesome when you are in it.

Although Breadcrumbs is a lovely, atmospheric story, I don't think it surpasses its inspiration in quality. I think it could have been smoother. The second part of the novel, where Hazel embarks on her quest through the magic forest and encounters many curious people, animals and magic objects is a little muddy in its messages (or I might be too dense or too adult to understand them).

However, the novel's best achievement is that it captures the internal world of a reading child perfectly. It is both a little lonely and full of wonder... I suspect those unfamiliar with children's books and who never were avid readers in their kid years will not enjoy Breadcrumbs quite as much as I did.
Profile Image for Misty.
796 reviews1,233 followers
October 7, 2011
I don't even know how to go about this review without gushing like an incoherent loon.
[Nope, as it turned out, all I had to do was sound really melodramatic and um...intense...Oh, boy.]  
I mean, really, I don't know that I have a single bad thing to say about this book.  I loved reading it for the beauty of the storytelling and for the way it made me feel, and I respected it for the same reasons as well as one very important one: Anne Ursu respects her audience.

It is very, very rare to find an author - or an adult, for that matter - who respects children and what they are capable of.  So many adults who have dealings with children (parents, teachers, authors, etc) have a tendency to sugar-coat things and say that kids "aren't ready" for certain things; they pretend kids "won't understand".  They have forgotten what it is to be a kid.  I think, when we force ourselves, we can all remember what it was actually like to be a child and to be "treated like a child" - to have the adults around us speak of things as if we don't understand, or try to hide things from us that we already fully comprehend.  As if a child isn't aware that they are growing up with divorced parents or an alcoholic mother, or an abusive father or anorexic sibling.  We all joke about kids being mimics (don't they just say the darnedest things, I wonder where they come up with it), and we turn a blind eye to the fact that they are taking everything in and feeling and understanding and worrying about a lot more than we ever give them credit for.

It's so very rare, then, to find an adult who realizes the strength and understanding children really do have, and embraces it and showcases it. [Side note: I have a little story about this, but I will save it for the end, since it really has no place in this review...]  I find it so refreshing and so much more powerful when an author just writes, just tells the story that needs to be told, and trusts their audience to understand it.  Anne Ursu does just this.  Ursu does not pander to her audience or hide from less pleasant aspects. Her story is non-flinching and not necessarily going to have a happy ending.  No magic wand is ever going to be waved.  There are a lot of villains in the world, and they come in all sizes, but there is no Big Bad Villain, just time.  Ursu tells a story that I think will be embraced by children - who will respect it without even realizing they are doing so, or why - and will be enjoyed by adults - who will find there is more in it that they would have imagined they'd get from a middle grade novel.

There is a depth of pain to the story that I found really affecting; I didn't expect it to have such a range of experience and emotion.  I don't want to turn anyone off by saying this, because it is not like it's some sob story written with the intent of making you cry.  (I loathe anything that makes me feel like I'm intentionally being played.)  It's just, there's an everyday pain worked into the story.  There are broken homes and mental illness and that mix of longings that seem to come at a certain age - the longing to be "grown up" and figure things out coupled with the longing to have things remain easy and carefree and the same.  The story is deceptive in its simplicity: a contemporary retelling of a fairly unknown fairy tale that is layered with understanding of human nature, issues of self-identity, crises of faith and a friendship so fierce its heartbreaking.  It's full of these melancholic little word-gems.  Which, yes, sounds a lot more emo than I'd intended it to, but that doesn't make it any less true.

It was a very full reading experience.  It was funny and modern and very, very true, and I adored Hazel.  There is light to balance the dark, and a healthy dose of the magic and fantasy a story like this needs to thrive. We tend to think of coming of age stories as the transition into recognized adulthood, but I think this is very much a coming of age story for the almost-teen set.  It's a time when friends do start to grow apart - and the very realistic pressure that Hazel (a girl) and Jack (a boy) face to begin growing apart, along with their desperation to go on as they were, felt very authentic to me.  There's also this almost-but-not-quite metafiction aspect to it that I really liked.  In some ways, on top of the very well done retelling, there is a focus on storytelling and the effects of stories in our lives.  Avid readers, young and old, will see many familiar names and events from their own childhood faves and classics.  It was well done -  fun, like an easter egg hunt, rather than feeling unoriginal.

I've talked in complete circles, I know it.  But I feel like I can't say too much, and I can't say enough.  I feel like there is something here for everyone.  You can read it as a fairy tale retelling and leave it at that.  You can enjoy it as a coming of age novel and feel a little wistful.  You can find yourself in the wood, confronting your own yearning and sadness, or just glory in the beauty of a good story, well told.
There is no real villain but time.

*And now, an unrelated-but-related story from my childhood:  When I was in 2nd grade, my teacher read a story called The Faithful Elephants aloud to us during story time.  It's a heartbreaking kids picture book (a phrase you do not hear often) about the bombing of the Tokyo Zoo during WWII.  We all cried, students, teacher and aides alike.  It was one of our longest story times because it was so hard just to get through.

Afterwards, we talked about the story and about compassion; about war and mankind and history.
Years later, when I was taking a Children's Lit class, I emailed my 2nd grade teacher and said "I'm sure you don't remember me (she did), but I'm hoping you remember this" and I described what I remembered of the story.  I asked her for the name of it because I wanted to present it to my class, and I thanked her for having the respect for children to be willing to read that book to us and let us connect to each other and show what we were capable of understanding and feeling.  Not many teachers would be willing to read a story that would make an entire classroom of 7 year olds cry.  It was a ballsy move, and I respected her for it.

She told me that the timing of my email was perfect - the very next day she was going to an annual meeting where, among other things on the agenda, they would be deciding whether to allow her to continue reading that story to her classes.  She took my email in; she retained permission.  (She also bought me a copy and signed it to me, thanking me; it sits proudly on my shelves to this day.  She died unexpectedly the next year, and I am so sad for all of the classes of children who are going to miss out on a teacher like her.  I credit her with being one of the key people who inspired my passion for books.)

This, I think, is the power of storytelling, and this is why I respect books like this, that treat children as people, so much.
I hope you'll read this, and I hope you'll share it and all of your favorite stories, with a child in your life.
Profile Image for TJ.
977 reviews118 followers
July 5, 2016

Why this book?

I haven't read many retellings of The Snow Queen

What I thought

This was a beautiful retelling of The Snow Queen . It was captivating and the writing is riveting. The people Hazel meets on her journey were fascinating. With that said I had a few problems. Hazel was way over dependent when it came to Jack. There also was no big climactic moment the witch just lets them go,like seriously that's it? Plus the book leaves off with nothing resolved, are they friends again or what? That being said this was an enjoyable read that I recommend.

Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,713 followers
June 28, 2011
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen is, let’s admit it, the world’s greatest puberty metaphor. A boy and girl are friends. Something happens and he grows cold and distant. In the midst of his indifference he’s spirited away and must be won back. Okay, the metaphor kind of breaks down at the end there, but the separation of boy/girl best friends is very real. With that in mind author Anne Ursu has done the mildly impossible. She has updated the old tale to the 21st century, thrown in references to other Andersen tales, and generally written one of the more fascinating and beautifully written, if sad, fantasy novels for middle grade readers of the year. If there's a book to watch this season, Breadcrumbs is it.

Hazel and Jack are best friends, now and forever. At least that’s how Hazel sees it. Sure, she knows that Jack’s a little depressed because of his mother’s mental illness, but he’s always there for her no matter what. That’s a good thing since Hazel doesn’t like dealing with her new school and she definitely doesn’t want any other friends. Then, one day, everything changes. Jack suddenly turns cold on Hazel. He refuses to be her friend, and then without warning disappears altogether. His parents give one reason for where he has gone, but when Hazel learns that Jack was spirited away by a beautiful woman in a carriage she sets off into the nearby woods to find her friend and to save him, no matter what the cost (no matter if he wants to be rescued, for that matter). Trouble is, you can read all the books about adventures that you like, but when it comes to real rescue missions nobody can prepare you for the moment when you have to face your own problems.

To my mind, Ursu does for Hans Christian Andersen in this book what Adam Gidwitz did for The Brothers Grimm in his A Tale Dark and Grimm. Which is to say, she picks him apart. Andersen was an odd author. There. I said it. His stories were rarely happy-go-lucky affairs. I mean, have you ever read The Swineherd? There’s a darkness to his tales. With Breadcrumbs that darkness isn't there simply because this is based on one of his stories. His influence permeates everything in this tale. Hazel’s travels bring her in contact with stories that bear some resemblance to The Red Shoes and The Little Match Girl. Other stories seem to reference The Wild Swans and The Nightingale, though a bit more obliquely. No doubt there are probably other Andersen tales squirreled away in the details of these chapters. You simply have to know where to look. It got me to thinking about what Andersen’s stories have in common. If Ursu is right, it may all come down to wanting things. In this book the character of The Snow Queen is described as having “unwanting eyes”. Everyone else in this story wants something though, and is willing to go to sometimes evil lengths to get what it is they desire. Maybe that was always the key to Andersen’s tales. Every one of his villains and heroes is felled by their wants. That Hazel is able to survive this story with her own want intact is a credit to the fact that she wants Jack back partly for herself, and partly for him as well. And in wanting what is best for him, the two survive.

Notably, Ursu’s fantasyland doesn’t have a ruler. The Snow Queen lives there, but she isn’t the White Witch from Narnia. No one considers her in charge, only someone to be feared. With this in mind, what makes Ursu’s world so frightening is that the usual rules do not apply. For a girl like Hazel, fantasy worlds should work with a kind of internal logic. That logic is more than missing in this world of Ursu’s, and the result is a mirroring of the feeling kids have when they feel that anything could happen to them, and it could be bad. Reading this book you are not reassured that Hazel and Jack will get out of this world unscathed or even alive. Knowing the original story of The Snow Queen doesn’t help you out any either since Ursu plays enough with the story to avoid direct comparisons (there is no Little Robber Girl in this version, alas). When an author decides to create a fantasyland they have to determine whether or not it will be a fun fantasyland or a horrific one. Is this a place that children would want to disappear into? The child reader, in this particular case, is left feeling that this is not a fantasy world they would like to visit again. Which, of course, inevitably leads to the question of whether or not the child reader would reread this book.

Expect fantasy and reality to mix in interesting ways here. Hazel uses fantasy to escape from the reality of her life, but while most authors would make this look like a good thing, here you can see that Hazel really is making her life harder than it needs to be. Jack’s mom, similarly, has withdrawn from the real world and exists in a universe of her own, much to her family’s chagrin. Under these circumstances it’s easy to see Jack’s abduction as metaphorical. The mirror shard in his heart and the ice he surrounds himself with, coupled with the people in the fantasy world who have retreated into horrific worlds to escape their real lives . . . man, there’s a lot to pick apart here!

As an author, Ursu makes a number of choices with this book that are unexpected, but work. For example, I was a little shocked when the narrative suddenly leapt into Jack’s head partway through the text. It was unexpected, but it worked. In fact you need to be with Jack at least part of the time here or his abduction becomes rote rather than interesting (that’s my take). There’s also the fact that the quest element to this book comes roughly halfway through the story. For that reason I wouldn’t necessarily sell this one to kids as a quest or adventure novel. If they’re expecting magic sooner than 100 pages in, they are bound to be disappointed. Finally, there are the references to other works of children’s literature. Right from the start I made a note to myself that the plot of The Snow Queen (boy abandons his friendship with a girl unexpectedly) smacked of When You Reach Me. Ursu then references that very book later in the text. She also references Narnia, His Dark Materials, A Wrinkle in Time, and many others.

By the end of the tale there are a couple loose ends that may confound readers. There are souls in trouble who are never rescued. There is question of what the wolves are and why they interact with Hazel in the way that they do. There is the clock in the woods. What is it? Why is it there? Ursu dares to ask questions and leave the answers up to the readers. It’s a bold choice and one that will frustrate a lot of kids who are used to having their questions answered for them by their authors. I can see English teachers having a field day with this book, using it for a variety of writing assignments. Prepare for objections, though. Objections happen when answers are not spelled out.

Artist Erin McGuire lends her black and white illustrations to the novel, which is an interesting notion. Generally I’ve noticed that the art in a contemporary middle grade chapter book has a distinct purpose. If you’re dealing with a Roald Dahl title like The Witches, for example, then you need Quentin Blake’s pictures to take an edge off of the scariness. That’s akin to what McGuire’s pictures do here. They don’t take away all the sadness and scariness, but they do dampen it to a certain degree. Seeing Hazel helps us to deal with her misery for most of the book. What McGuire chooses to illustrate is also interesting. She doesn’t necessarily go for the obvious scenes, which is to say she doesn’t choose moments that contain a lot of action and adventure, but rather scenes of quiet magic. Kids, I think, will appreciate that. Her pictures serve the mood.

This is not the first adapted version of The Snow Queen I’ve encountered. In the anthology Firebirds author Kara Dalkey wrote a tale called "The Lady of the Ice Garden," which sets the story in Late Heian, Japan. That story turned the Snow Queen’s abduction of Jack into something sexual, which is one way of taking it. Ursu’s way is yet another. Breadcrumbs can be an oddly dark, somewhat depressing story at times. Hazel, after all, leads a sad life and her adventures only reinforce that fact. Yet the writing is remarkable and there’s so much to think about and look into here that kids will find themselves relating easily. They may be upset by the ending (which I will not spoil), finding it a touch unfinished but some will understand that it’s a honest way to end the book. This is a book that gives readers whole worlds to discover and discuss. It reinforces the oddities of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales, and ties them into a 21st century world. A strange, amazing, sad, thoughtful, one-of-a-kind original. You will find no other book out there quite like this one, no matter how hard you try.

For ages 9-12.
Profile Image for Eh?Eh!.
364 reviews4 followers
October 18, 2011
Hey, Mike Reynolds, do you know Anne Ursu??? She teaches at Hamline!

A delight of a book. I can do no better than these reviews:
Thank you, Tommy, for the recommendation!!

The more I read with a view to attempting to understand why I read and how I respond, the more I'm seeing that the books I can stick myself into are the ones that hit me with the most oomph. I was Hazel (but less brave, less lively). Maybe that's part of why I can't "get" serious Lit-rah-chur, not only do I need a much bigger brain but I need to be able to expand my imagination or disengage myself from it?

Once upon a time there was a 4yo girl whose best friend was her big brother. They played and fought as siblings do. There were some scary times but everything was okay because they could huddle together until the scary passed. Then one day, the big brother made friends with a group of boys who taught him without saying so that boys don't play with girls. The first time the little girl tried to join in, she was thoroughly rebuffed with the weak excuse that she was too young (the boys were 5-7). Realizing it was just an excuse, she tried to play anyway. The boys stopped playing and stared at her and said mean things until she moved away. Hurt and confused, it took a while for her to realize she'd lost her best friend.

Once upon a time there was a little girl whose mother was part of a religion that met an ungodly 3x/wk. For 2 hours on Sunday, 1 hour on Tuesday, and 2 hours on Thursday, the little girl had to sit still and remain quiet...or else. "Or else" = being taken to the restroom and spanked with chopsticks (it hurt like h*ll). As soon as the last "amen" was spoken she could burst forth from her chair and lift her dress above her head for airflow, laydown on the shaggy red carpeting and pretend to be a steamroller, tiptoe behind the stage to look at the audio equipment, go outside to essentially run laps around the building, and twirl and dance and laugh and laugh and laugh. She had friend in these after-too-much-sitting frolics, a little boy. They played 3x/wk and it was good. Then one day, the little girl decided she wanted to be part of the group of all the other girls. The first step was to shake the little boy, who didn't understand why she wouldn't come outside anymore. He pleaded, "Let's go out!" Some of the other girls heard and giggled meanly. The little girl, shamed somehow, said no and turned her back. They never ran laps together again. She regretted that ever since.

Once upon a time there was a little girl who found solace in books. In the stories, the problems were always solved with the right words or courage or by just being good. Since she found it hard to think of the right words and uncertain on how to be brave, she decided to be good. So good. Like the stories. She was good to the point of isolation. It didn't heal any of the problems that needed healing the most. The little girl was slow and took many years longer than Hazel to realize that stories were not truth and should not be taken as guidelines to live by.

Once upon a time this girl found that stories helped her look at the past.
Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,217 followers
October 8, 2011
As a rule, even though I probably do it too much myself, I think comparing two books that are literally similar tends to do neither book any favors. So, unless you’re trying to crush something despicable in one of the books, pitting one against another doesn’t make that much sense to me. Thoughtless comparisons have ruined stories for me because sometimes something beautiful in a story is so easy to crush by association with something blunt in another. All of this preface is a warning because I am going to compare this book to another book, and it makes me nervous. This book is delicate and beautiful and inspiring, and the book I’m going to compare it to is blunt and awkward and stifling. What I want to say is that I think Breadcrumbs is in many ways reaction to this weirdly true and simultaneously deeply false culture of that odd book He’s Just Not That Into You. I don’t think I can talk about this without spoilers, so consider yourself generally warned.

Breadcrumbs is a story of a little girl, Hazel, who is on the verge of growing up, and must save her best friend, Jack, from magic that poisons and freezes Jack’s heart and turns him against Hazel. Even though grownups around her tell Hazel that Jack is just not that into her, that she should just let him go if he’s not nice to her, Hazel knows Jack and she knows something wrong is going on. More than that, she knows she can be a warrior and save Jack from the loneliness and isolation of this evil magic. So, in a lot of ways, it is delicate to talk about this book because I think if you’re a girl, and you’re Hazel, you could be completely correct and brave and self-aware – or you could be a crazy person who keys cars when boys break up with you.

There is that new documentary, Miss Representation, which I haven’t seen yet. The trailer makes it look amazing, though. It seems like it is mostly about the representation of women and girls in the media and how that contributes to us not participating in society. One of the trailer’s statistics, which has stuck with me and made me really sad over the past few weeks, is that (and I might get the ages slightly wrong here) an equal number of girls and boys under age 9 say that they want to be President when they grow up. Then, once you get to around age 15, almost no girls say that anymore. How much does that suck? It says to me that once girls reach adolescence, we realize that the world was not made for us, it was made for boys.

And I think that is one of the disturbing things about the book He’s Just Not That Into You. The underlying assumption (and even, in many ways, the explicit message) of the book is that girls are and should be insatiably driven to find a steady relationship with a boy, any boy, no matter who he is, but boys must be struck by lightning to find That Special Girl. So, a girl is a crazy person if she is patient with a guy who doesn’t want to impregnate her within the first five minutes of meeting her. (Underlying assumption being that girls should be super excited about that guy.) But, girls are just waiting around at girl factories for guys to magically find the right one, and the chosen girl will be so grateful just to be picked. The world was not made for girls: girls are just one accessory in a world made for boys. On the other hand, I do know at least one girl who is a crazy person and more likely than not to burn down a guy’s house if he’s not into her, so for that girl I think there might be a place for the creepy not-into-you message. For the rest of us, I think a more pertinent message would be, “What are you getting out of this?”

As a sidebar, I think the expectation that girls should be continually dying for a relationship, aside from being perpetuated in culture, comes from ye olden days (and ye present days) when women were not able to make money or own property and need/ed relationships for survival.

Anyway, the way Breadcrumbs deals with this is really pretty. Hazel hears all of these messages, but then she listens to her own heart instead and thinks of what she knows of her friend Jack and she believes that. Much of the book, Hazel’s encounters with a world of fairy tales, seems symbolic or even coded as a girl’s journey to trusting her own evaluation of the world and learning to be braver, and thereby more compassionate, from those lessons. I really like that, and it was so fun to picture a little girl reading the book and being scared and inspired with Hazel and the different versions of love she encounters.

But, there is still a future looming over Hazel that made me ambivalent. Hazel is 9 or 10 in the book, and I saw the Miss Representation trailer while I was in the middle of Breadcrumbs. The white witch warns Hazel in the end that someday Jack will grow up and actually reject her, and she won’t always be able to save their relationship. That’s not exactly what she says, but it is what I heard from her message. It made me think of how, when girls are children, they still want to be President, but adolescence takes that away from them: it becomes a boy's job to reject or accept a girl. Will Hazel not be able to save Jack once he is older and rejects her? She will have to just lose her friend and the most supportive person in her life then? Is it only little girls who can be warriors, and then when we grow up the world stops being ours and we are crazy people if we don’t just let our friends walk away from us? On the one hand I loved that the white witch told Hazel that, and that Hazel meditated on it as the book closed, and on the other hand, I hated it. I loved it because it is true: Jack probably will reject her again in the future, and when that happens, will it be worth it to Hazel to go after him again? Maybe not. But I also hated it because it seemed to anticipate that it should not be worth it to Hazel when she grew up.

I don’t know, maybe I have had too much time to dwell on this from not wanting to post a review because I have felt weirdly vulnerable lately and because my thoughts on this book say things about me that make me uncomfortable in my skin. I have never seen a romantic relationship, my own or anyone else’s, that I thought was worth going through what Hazel went through in this book. I’m super sorry, relationship people, because I do love you, and maybe when some dude is struck by lightning in a non-creepy way about me, I will feel differently, but I have never seen a romantic relationship that I, personally, envy. But, I have had plenty of friendships, as a child and as an adult, that I think are worth what Hazel did. And also not. I guess I like that is open ended whether Hazel would do it again, when, as I think the book anticipates, she and Jack fall in love. But it also leaves me with an unsettled feeling that there is no real answer about whether it is objectively worth it to go through all of the forgiveness and rebuilding it takes to remind a friend that they love you and should be nice to you. Life is hard, kids.

So, ultimately, I guess I like that Hazel tells the just-not-into-you people to shove it because their message does not apply to her friendship with Jack. And, I also feel a little tragically about how that message may or may not apply to her in the future – nobody knows. I guess, for Hazel’s sake, I always hope that the Jacks will be worth the sacrifices. Part of the sad thing about the just-not-into-you message is that it is universal enough for that message to become a best-selling book that friends think a romantic-interest dude is not a nice enough person to be worth a girl’s energy. What is up with that?

It also made me think of this beautiful dance.
Profile Image for mary liz.
213 reviews18 followers
March 6, 2018

The single greatest thing I liked about this book was finishing it. I WAS FREAKING CELEBRATING WHEN I READ THE LAST PAGE.

I'm sorry, but this is just . . . not my thing.

Lovely Things:

- The illustrations. Oh my gingersnaps, the illustrations in this book are SO BEAUTIFUL. The cover art and all the little illustration pages scattered throughout . . . they are darling.

- Um . . . it's wintery?? I'm trying to think of something else I liked, but I'm drawing a blank. I guess I just loved how aesthetically WINTER it was. I could pretend it wasn't 80 degrees out while I read this so yayyyy.

- That's all I got, sister. Yeah. *scratches head* Nothing else to see here.

(OH I THOUGHT OF SOMETHING. The references to Narnia and other books was quite fun! I guess that's about it.)

Not-So-Lovely Things:

- The writing style. Nooooooooooooo. The writing style in this made my skin crawl. It was so flat and void of . . . well, anything. It was lifeless. It felt like it was TRYING to be lyrical and deep but failing miserably at it. Ever other sentence seemed to start with the word "and" or "but" . . . which is fine every once in a while, but not all the time. The writing just really grated on my nerves. *shudders*

- The characters. I felt no connection whatsoever to any of them. Which makes it particularly difficult to actually want to READ about them, you know? They felt as flat as cardboard. No personality, for the most part - and their dialogue was SO AWKWARD. It just felt like nobody had any realistic emotions. :P

-It was . . . kind of pointless? Honestly, I didn't see the point of this book. I thought it would all come together at the end, but it didn't. I was left feeling empty and slightly depressed. There's no change to the characters, and the main character doesn't learn anything or grow at all. I have the feeling this was supposed to be a deep, touching book . . . BUT IT DIDN'T FEEL THAT WAY AT ALL. It felt pointless. Depressing. And very odd. I never quite understood why there were all these weird things happening in the woods. It's never explained where people came from or why things are so weird there. It's so vague and unexplained. And the white witch?? There should have been some conclusive end to her. People say on several occasions that "there's no way to defeat her" and you "just have to pretend she doesn't exist", which I thought meant she WOULD be defeated. BECAUSE THESE PEOPLE NEED HOPE. They need to be freed from their cages of fear. But . . . nobody defeats her?? Am I missing something here? WHAT IS THE POINT? It just feels so hopeless. All Hazel does is take her friend back to "their world" . . . and he still seems like he's distant and cold. I thought he would change, and they would grow along the way. Defeat the darkness.

But nothing happens.

- Have I mentioned it's really weird? Yeah. This book makes no sense to me at all. :P

Overall? I AM NOT PLEASED. Maybe it's just me, but this book felt flat & depressing & hopeless & very odd. I don't get it. I really don't.

2 stars
January 1, 2021
This was amazing! Such a great story, & so deep at the same time-& I don’t just mean the snow! 😆Ok sorry, moving on! Lol I believe this is inspired by The Snow Queen. I didn’t realize that at 1st or I would have read that beforehand. But I know the basics of the story. The book is broken into 2 parts-the 1st part is almost completely in the real world, & in the 2nd part we’re in the fantasy world where Hazel goes to rescue her best friend Jack from the White Witch. In the 1st part we also learn a lot about Hazel & Jack. Hazel’s parents recently divorced. Her dad moved away & is about to be remarried. He never visits & hardly calls her. They had to go back to their old beat up car, & she had to stop going to a school her mom had to pay for & start going to public school-just to name a few of the changes resulting from her dad leaving. So lots of changes. Hazel is also adopted. Her parents adopted her from India. All of these things combined w/her over active imagination make her feel like she doesn’t belong or fit anywhere. Except w/Jack-her neighbor & best friend. His mom has gone into a deep depression it seems, & doesn’t seem to care about anything-Not even Jack. He feels invisible. One day glass falls into his eye & goes to his heart & freezes it. & he changes completely. He is mean to Hazel, & starts spending all of his time w/his guy friends-who always bully Hazel. Then the witch takes him to her palace of ice in the woods. Hazel goes to rescue him. She sees all sorts of amazing & also dangerous things on her journey to him. The book has breadcrumbs of sorts throughout it leading us on the meaning of the story itself I feel. Of loss & sadness. Change & accepting that. You are always routing for hope & friendship throughout the story. It was full of so much depth & feeling, that it really stuck w/me long after finishing. Highly recommend this. Also, it is so atmospheric & vivid. Perfect winter read. There are also beautiful full page illustrations sprinkled throughout the book by Erin McGuire to go along w/that stunning cover.💜
Profile Image for Lata.
3,509 reviews187 followers
April 16, 2019
Hazel and Jack are best friends. They're in grade five, and hang out together at recess and after school. Hazel is adopted, and she and her mother live together after her adopted father left them. Jack lives nearby, and his mother is suffering from depression, though it's never named as such by any of the characters. One day, a piece of glass from a troll-made mirror gets into Jack's eye, and very soon afterwards, he rejects Hazel and disappears. Hazel journeys to the wood in which Jack was last seen entering, and encounters a variety of threats as she looks for Jack.
This was an interesting retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "Snow Queen". Also, I like the way it was also a story of growing up and how friendships can change and even break as one grows and changes. I liked Anne Ursu's characterizations. I don't know what it's like to be adopted, but I wondered at, for lack of a better term, Hazel's lack of mental dissonance growing up brown in a white family. Though Hazel was feeling sadness, anger and some degree of confusion over the divorce of her adopted parents, I kept wondering how she was feeling about being so obviously different from her parents and from everyone around her. I cannot imagine that she did not feel something about this, and for a story that is so much about belonging, family and friendship, this felt like an omission to me. Other than that, I have to say I really enjoyed this book. Hazel's an imaginative, tough, caring and determined person, and the way she handles each of her encounters in the woods made me love her even more. Based on my reaction to this book, I plan to check out more of Anne Ursu's work.
Profile Image for Kay.
197 reviews362 followers
January 10, 2012
The Snow Queen is one of my favorite fairy tales. It's haunting and nostalgic, bleak yet hopeful. The villain isn't some wolf lurking in the forest, or an evil witch who casts curses on newborns; it's not even the Snow Queen herself. Rather, the villainy lies in our own heart, capable of being manipulated and mutated by how we perceive the world.

Using this tale, Anne Ursu crafts a lovely retelling from the perspective of a girl, right on the cusp of adolescence. Hazel is a fifth grader struggling with her new life in a public school, unable to fit in. Following a divorce, her mother struggles to maintain her family and finances, which leaves Hazel on her own for some time. Hazel's only confidante is Jack, the only one who (Hazel believes) relates to her troubles and her active imagination.

Circumstances happen which drive a wedge between Hazel and Jack. Suddenly, Jack stops playing with Hazel and instead opts to play with the other boys during recess. Hazel, though she tries to resist, is dragged along by her mother to play with a girl her own age. Hazel suspects that something is deeply wrong with Jack, but she is unable to do anything about it.

That is, until Jack is taken by the Snow Queen.

The second half of the book narrates Hazel's journey through a forest to find Jack. Along the way, she meets a cast of fascinating and, I won't lie, very creepy characters. Reading about some of these characters, particularly really unsettled me. But, like in all good fairy tales, the journey leads to growth, and the change in Hazel from the beginning to the end of the story was beautifully written.

I really enjoyed this book, particularly the second half. I am thinking of bringing this book to a fifth grader I read with weekly at a local elementary school. Breadcrumbs is a story about growing up and the changes that come with it. Anne Ursu did a fantastic job staying close to not only the narrative of the original fairy tale but also the emotion behind it, even with the modern twist. In essence, both are about navigating the dark forest of our own uncertainty and fear, and learning to face change with courage.

4.5 stars and highly recommended!
Profile Image for Amanda B.
763 reviews80 followers
May 20, 2011
This is a book for people who are in love with Story. I love that it's not about the mundane girl whose life is changed by a freewheeling, magical friend (though I do love those stories too!). It's about two magical, freewheeling friends and what happens when one of them loses his way. Hazel is such a lovable main character, so well captured. This book is fun and thoughtful and above all TRUE. It made me laugh and it brought me to tears and left me full of deep thoughts. I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and give this to myself when I was in fifth grade.
Profile Image for Kelly.
616 reviews147 followers
September 21, 2011
Hazel and Jack have always been best friends, bonding over their shared love of science fiction and fantasy. They play make-believe “superhero baseball” and hang out in a derelict house they call the Shrieking Shack. But now that they’re eleven, Hazel’s mom is pushing her to make some female friends, and Jack is more interested in hanging out with his male friends than with Hazel. Then the impossible happens: Jack is taken away by a mysterious witch, and Hazel is the only one who can rescue him. Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs is a retelling of the fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” and it’s fantastic.

Ursu perfectly captures what it’s like to be a child of about eleven, just on the cusp of puberty but not there yet. You’re old enough to know that believing in magic is considered childish, but you don’t want to live in a world without it. Social cliques are shifting, sometimes for no discernible reason, and you feel the loss of friendships without ever knowing what went wrong. And maybe your parents get divorced (Hazel’s), or maybe they’re suffering from a mental illness (Jack’s), or even if none of that happens, you’re starting to realize they don’t have all the answers. Or they don’t have the answers you want to hear, or they seem to be answering a subtly different question from the one you’re asking. Ursu uses a delicate touch with the familial issues; the book never feels like a Very Special Episode About Divorce or anything like that. Instead, the issues are woven seamlessly into the kids’ lives along with their fantasy geekdom.

Later, when Hazel ventures into the realm of fairy tales, she learns that it contains many dangers that “would have been beautiful, as a story.” She encounters a variety of odd folk and situations, all drawn not just from fairy tales but from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales in particular. (This was when I finally processed the fact that the heroine’s name is “Hazel Anderson”!) She’s offered several different kinds of oblivion; the challenge is to press onward even when peaceful forgetfulness would be easier, and to help people along the way if she can. Even if Hazel can find Jack, he may not want to be rescued; maybe he wanted the Snow Queen’s brand of oblivion.

Always present, too, is the possibility that Hazel might save Jack from the immediate physical danger but still lose him emotionally. My favorite example of this theme has long been that penultimate transformation in Patricia McKillip’s Winter Rose, but now Breadcrumbs is going right up there with it.

Erin McGuire’s illustrations are a treat, too. The ARC only has some of the drawings, but they are gorgeous and I can’t wait to see the rest. And I adore the cover: the woods, the wolves, and scrappy little Hazel looking just like she’s described in the text.

This is a beautifully written book — and intelligently written, too. Ursu never talks down to her audience in terms of vocabulary or metaphor. Kids will enjoy this, especially kids who are introspective and bookish like Hazel herself, but I think it may actually be even more enjoyable for adults. This isn’t so much a book for children as it is a book about childhood, meaningful for readers of all ages. I’m in my thirties and I loved Breadcrumbs. It took me right back to when I was Hazel’s age and dealing with some of the same heartaches she was going through. I recommend Breadcrumbs to anyone who is a geeky kid… and anyone who has ever been a geeky kid.

ETA: Since writing this review a few weeks ago, I've wondered if there's another significance of the kids being eleven--that's when you get your Hogwarts letter, or (since Harry Potter is fiction) that's when you don't get your Hogwarts letter. The current generation of kids has always had HP in their cultural landscape. I first started reading the books when I was 20, so I don't have them in the blood in the same way, even though I loved most of them. I joke that my Hogwarts letter went astray--but how many of today's kids hoped for one in all seriousness?
Profile Image for Joe.
96 reviews717 followers
December 20, 2011
Breadcrumbs begins with a promise: "It was the sort of snowfall that, if there were any magic to be had in the world, would make it come out. And magic did come out."

And unlike many books, it delivers on that promise.

Hazel and Jack are best friends, the kind who, despite their youth, have weathered bitter hardships. Jack's mother tumbles into the darkness of depression; Hazel's father abandons his family for a new life. But the two friends have used the strength of their mutual affection to buoy their personal troubles. Nothing can chip away at their bond and no trial can shake their foundation.

But one day - unexpectedly - Jack changes, and he sheds himself of Hazel.

We have all been in this tender situation. The day, the hour, the second that a friendship or a relationship inexplicably slips away from us. The circumstances can bewilder. Distance, disagreement, an effluvial change of the wind, that acidic enemy capital-T Time. Sometimes it's everything. Sometimes it's nothing. It just happens. We are lost and lonely and we search for answers.

Hazel's searching leads her into the woods, every author's favorite Glaring Symbol for the Unknown. In lesser hands, this would have been a trite exploration of those powerful feelings that accompany loss. But Ursu is nothing if not talented, and in Hazel she has crafted and extraordinarily likeable and resolute heroine. Hazel relies on her own agency of character rather than the promises of others, and she does not trick herself into believing the words of those she encounters. Experience is sometimes the only way we learn, and Hazel's dream-like quest in the woods leads her to uncover life's scary little truth: we can never know anybody fully - even the people we love the most. Especially the people we love most. There will always be a secret buried somewhere, a mystery we will never know.

Ursu's extended metaphor is beyond clever, as is her exploration of the power and trickery of memory. Hazel often reminisces about her halcyon days with Jack. Memory reminds her of their childish delight in superheroes, in baby pools filled with ice, of secrets and dreams and hopes. Memory is cruel in this way, often misleading us into believing that we can capture that magic again. Hazel is an astute observer, and her epiphanies are heartbreaking and familiar.

The climax is a little lackluster, but Ursu offers no easy answers - because there aren't any - and the ending of the book is satisfactorily vague. I will not be surprised to see a silver medal on this one come January 2012. (The gold medal better be plastered on A Monster Calls.)
Profile Image for Cheryl .
9,056 reviews392 followers
June 30, 2020
"In the woods where the woodsmen told lies, maybe it was the wolves who told the truth."

Eerie, literary, rich. Recommended. I listened to the audio a few years ago and felt that I was missing something, but it turns out that's a good way to read it at least for me, as I don't do audio much, and so there was the cachet of 'something special' associated with the experience. And of course I missed the pictures, which are nice but not critical (though it would have helped if I'd caught on more quickly that Hazel was of East Indian descent). In a way I missed almost nothing; in another way I missed almost everything. Brilliant book.

I could read it again. There's *so* much going on here beyond the plot. For example, why does Hazel think of herself as hollow, especially when she's meeting with the school counselor? Is she rescuing Jack for his sake, or for hers? Is she going to go back to school the same girl she was when she left, after this adventure? What *is* the point of plastic flowers? I'd love to discuss it with a group, or listen in as children discuss it.

And, perhaps just as importantly, has Ursu written anything else like it?

Another reread. I definitely get more out of this every time. I'm going to keep this paper copy I found in a LFL. Poetic, resonant, thoughtful.

"I believe that the world isn't always what we can see. I believe there are secrets in the woods. And I believe that goodness wins out."

Btw, Ursu's The Real Boy and The Lost Girl are also very much worth reading if, like me, you can't get enough of this kind of writing.
Profile Image for Rachael.
199 reviews
August 31, 2011
I must be alone in not loving this one. I found the main character Hazel to be dull, unlikeable and overly self-pitying. For most of the novel she cries a lot, tries to seem brave and stomps around when she doesn't get her way. She isn't particularly nice to other people, but then feels misunderstood when her classmates aren't nice to her. I kept waiting for her to go through some kind of transformation and end up likeable, but she was irritating from beginning to end. And the white witch character was another issue for me. According to Ben, she's not like the white witch from Narnia; Narnia is like the white witch. Yea, okay. Basically she is the white witch from Narnia, since the author doesn't really give us many other details about her other than she rides around in a sleigh and wears furs and makes a joke about Turkish Delight. Either give us a new character or tell us how the white witch got here, but to give us the white witch and then vaguely claim she's not the white witch was unsatisfying. And the way you defeat the white witch is by ignoring her and just walking away? That felt anti-climatic to me especially considering that the characters within the woods were much more terrifying. The girl who couldn't stop dancing and the parents who turned kids into birds and flowers- those interactions and characters are the best part of this book but the white witch was overall a disappointing character. I wanted to like this book and I'll be interested to hear what my students have to say about it, but overall I was disappointed.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Samuel.
Author 2 books28 followers
December 22, 2011
This book is more than a little otherworldly. It's as hypnotic as a blizzard, as ominous as a dream, as fragmented as reality.

The plot is an extended reinterpretation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," set partly in modern-day Minnesota, and partly in The Woods, one of the most unfriendly landscapes in children's fantasy. Fifth-grader Hazel Anderson's best friend Jack is missing, and she takes it upon herself to find and rescue him, even in the face of mounting evidence that he may not want to be rescued after all.

The prose is masterfully poetic, evocatively descriptive, and desperately sad. Indeed, though I've read children's books in which sadder things happened, I'm not sure I've ever read one in which the tone was so consistently haunting, melancholic, and existentially troubled. Even the book's ending, with its conclusion of the heroic quest, refuses to bask in happiness or allow Hazel a moment of pure joy.

The book's received mixed reviews, which I think is related to the fact that it resists so many conventions of popular literature in general and children's fantasy in particular. Even the most frightening of the characters hardly qualifies as a villain, and there's no Aslan or Gandalf to help guide Hazel on her quest either. Secondary characters flit through the book half-visibly, especially in the second part; we see the portions of their stories that intersect with Hazel's, but no more. Even though various people, including Hazel at times, want the plot to be organized as a classic good vs. evil conflict, it steadfastly refuses to go that way.

We don't expect that from our fantasy novels, especially for children. But isn't it more like the way life actually operates? Existence is painted in shades of gray. There are few true villains, and fewer heroes. People come and go from our lives, often with little explanation and with seemingly important questions unresolved. Even narrative itself is an illusion, a cloak we weave from broken threads to try and keep the cold of chaos away. What, under those circumstances, is more real: an epic battle of Good and Evil, or the attempts of a flawed but determined girl to save a fracturing friendship, with results that, even at the end of the story, aren't fully visible? As the Jens Lekman song goes, "What's broken can always be fixed; what's fixed will always be broken."

I think many people would like this book more if it were less true. But I love it for its truthfulness, its gorgeous weariness, and its (successful) attempts to find beauty and truth in things that are not only broken, but both being fixed and breaking more all the time.
Profile Image for Abby.
528 reviews111 followers
September 19, 2020
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Jack who got lost in the woods. His best friend went after him. Along the way, she had many adventures. She met woodsmen, witches, and wolves. She found her friend in the thrall of a queen who lived in a palace of ice and had a heart to match. She rescued him with the help of a magical object. And they returned home, together, and they lived on, somehow, ever after.
It went something like that, anyway.

book playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/mylittl...

Okay, if you wanted to know my aesthetic in book form, this book is it. It's a retelling of one fairytale with bits and baubles from others thrown in, it's got friendship as the main plot point, the main character's relationship with her mother is fantastic. It deals with things like "plastic flower" words and changes in gravity at lunch tables and presents with promises.

We follow Hazel, whose father has just left, and Jack, whose mother has empty eyes. They're best friends and nothing could change that. Nothing but a shard from a broken mirror. Jack goes into the woods, and Hazel is the only one who will venture after him. The woods, where woodsmen are bad and wolves are good, where couples keep gardens because flowers can't fly away, where a starving girl stares into match flames, and a white witch waits at the end.

Is this now one of my favorite books?

Yes. Absolutely.

Is it for everyone?

No, probably not.

It's very stylized writing, which I adore, but not everyone will. It is a middle-grade, and probably would be considered juvenile by others.

But for me, and for others like me, this book was everything I wanted it to be and more.

5 stars from me and if I could give it more, I would. I adored this book so, so much.

re-read 2020: yep. still one of my faves.
Profile Image for Laurel.
Author 38 books740 followers
May 23, 2011
Whew. Okay. Wow.

BEAUTIFULLY written. Really, perfect prose. No way I can give this less than 5 stars.

I'm really interested in books that do what this books does-- take "regular" kids into magic, at the very age when they'e questioning the idea/existence of magic. Books that bridge the MG/YA leap from "outside" worlds of adventure to "inside" worlds of emotion/identity. Divorce and mental illness are handled deftly, as is adoption. No hammering-over-the-head. While the fairytale retains an ethereal quality that shows how the author respects and loves the tradition.

I can make a little list of tiny questions/issues with the book, but really they'd be preferences of mine, not flaws with the book itself. I think Ursu has a shot at award season.
Profile Image for Kim.
286 reviews778 followers
February 16, 2012

Remember back when you were 10 and the most important thing was a) being a world renowned hula hooper and b) marrying Davy Jones? If so… email me, we must be twins separated by fate.

Remember when you would rush off with your friends after school, without proper outdoor attire, no helmet as you straddle your ten speed, no cell phone with a GPS chip so your parents always know where you are… the only caution being from Officer Friendly to not talk to strangers and avoid starting forest fires? Or something like that?

Remember when being a kid meant that there were bullies that made fun of you but no one killed themselves or shot up their schools or staged a sit in about it. You just cornered them in the playground and swung your Holly Hobby tin lunchbox as hard as you could into their smug little faces?

Remember when the phrase ‘I have to take my meds’ didn’t mean anything to you?

I do.

Hazel probably doesn’t and that’s sad. It’s sad that kids can’t be kids anymore. Yes, a tired thought… I remember when we were princesses and our friends’ older brothers were evil wizards and we had to fight them off with fairy dust (sand) and how they would always end up claiming a super power and running away. We didn’t think much of video games, maybe a game of pong after dinner… But, that would be hours and hours away and we wouldn’t show up at home until way after dark and our parents weren’t organizing search parties and finding the locations of sex offenders in our neighborhood.

Hazel does try to maintain those golden moments. She has a best friend, Jack, who lives next door and he draws castles and invents arch enemies and they play super hero baseball and hand out in abandoned shacks. Hazel feels like she belongs when she’s with Jack. Belongs…. To what? To where? I guess to anyone/thing/place. Being ten and having to deal with what multiple choice questions and math problems and all that can be being 10. Especially when you are dreaming about traveling to the earth’s molten core and then the arctic and then through space and beyond.

Hazel and Jack are alike. Hazel’s dad left. Jack’s mom is depressed and is only able to maintain being a shell of what she was.

And then the story gets real. With a journey through the woods. For Jack, it’s to forget about all that’s bad. For Hazel, it’s to get her best friend back. There are witches who wear swanskins, woodsmen who leave ballet shoes for lost girls, fates who like shiny things, a birdkeeper and his bird sister, a man and woman who turn little girls into flowers so that they will not leave them. Then there is the Ice Queen. Who offers Jack a ‘palace of ice and a heart to match.’
”Sometimes, it seems like it would be easier to give yourself to the ice.”

Hazel will not give up. “You’re Jack,” she said, putting the mirror in front of him. “Jack Campbell. Do you see?” And you are made of baseball and superheroes and castles and lots of Hazels-past, even if you lost them to the wind, it doesn’t matter.”

Hazel is my hero. I would not fit in with her in a superfast minute.
Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews523 followers
August 5, 2012
Finished the morning of my birthday (no felicitation necessary, this was mumblemumble months ago). A dreamy modern fairy tale for the pre-teen set about being the child of divorce and losing your best friend and being the very brave girl who follows him into another world to get him back.

Wonderful in many ways, and I commend it to many of you and to your kids. I loved all of this set in the ‘real” world, but the fairy tale portions were pitched exactly counter to my tastes. Idiosyncratic thing, ignore me.

But the thing I really wanted to talk about is growing up. Why finishing this on my birthday was a lovely bit of serendipity. I have always, always felt ever since I was very small that growing up is a process of accumulating, not losing. I have never understood all those formulations of childhood and adulthood that require the child to lose to grow up. Lose innocence, or capacity for magic, or whatever it is. I think because growing up for me meant gaining freedom and autonomy and community, and lots of other things I was slowly starving for, the idea that growing up means losing something valuable never sat right. (Plus, I think there’s a lot of *gestures* creepy fetishizing of ‘purity’ going on there that I can’t quite articulate).

And I love that this book doesn’t go down that path. It easily could, and it is working in the liminal space between childhood and adulthood. Right where relationships begin to become a little bit fraught, even if no one is quite clocking sexuality yet. Right where things are a little hard at home, and mom needs you to step up and pull your weight, even if your weight isn’t all that much yet. And that liminal space between fantasy and reality where everyone is telling the protagonist to “grow up” and be present in this world, but all she can do is see her way into the fairy tale.

So this book is right there in those spaces, but it’s absolutely not about losing access to magic because of feelings for boys, or even about magic and adulthood as antithetical. Hazel (a mixed-state name for a transracial adopted girl stuck between worlds, it really is that kind of book) does have a flexibility of mind that lets her do what she has to do, but I feel like that’s because she is who she is, not because she’s nine. This kid is going to grow up scared but brave, and she’s going to read fantasy books and smile secretly to herself, because these are not the childish things that one must put away.
Profile Image for Agnė.
749 reviews58 followers
June 17, 2021
In Breadcrumbs, middle grade realistic fiction meets fantasy as the story explores the challenges of growing up and apart from your best friend as well as touches upon such important topics as depression, divorce, adoption, and the struggle to fit in.

While Breadcrumbs is essentially a contemporary retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's tale, The Snow Queen, there are also a multiple cameos of other Andersen's tales, such as The Red Shoes and The Little Match Girl, as well as a nod to other children's classics, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, etc.

All of this might sound promising and exciting - it did to me! - but, unfortunately, I was bored beyond belief. The story does get a little bit more interesting halfway through when the magical quest begins but, honestly, not by much.

Also, I was kind of annoyed by many loose ends, a lack of logic and explanations, and cheap plot solutions.

I listened to Breadcrumbs in an audio format, and I'm not sure if it's the writing or the narration (or both?), but it sounded so melodramatic yet I felt NOTHING (other than bored, that is).

Needless to say, I didn’t particularly like or care about the characters either, which is never a good sign. My heart must be frozen or something ;)
Profile Image for AH.
2,005 reviews370 followers
September 22, 2014
Initial Thoughts: At first I was cursing this book that waxed poetic about snow. Being from a place that had way too much snow this year, I had little patience for any book that talks about how wonderful snowflakes are, but I digress...This is a perfect book for grades 3-6 with a wonderful heroine who is very creative and imaginative, but slightly odd. Hazel notices that things have changed with her best friend Jack and that he doesn't really want to play with her. Then, he goes missing. Hazel braves all sorts of obstacles to bring Jack home. The story is beautifully written and would make a perfect bedtime story for kids aged 8-12.

Christal and I discuss this book as part of Lovin Los Libro's Jumble Your Genres Challenge on Badass Book Reviews. See what we thought about this book and more on the blog.
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