By Anne Ursu
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.
Hazel and Jack did nearly everything together, they went together like two peas in a pod and Hazel thought that nothing could ever separate them. Then, Jack changes. After getting something in his eye he begins acting like a different person, he tells Hazel he doesn’t want to play her baby games and completely abandons her and the plans they had together. Hazel can’t understand why Jack is acting this way but everyone around her tells her that it is “normal” and just something that happens when you “grow up”. Soon after Jack’s change, he goes missing. When Hazel asks Jack’s mother where he has gone she explains that he left to help his elderly aunt Bernice. Hazel has never heard of an Aunt Bernice and as his best friend she believes this is information she ought to have known. Another of Jack’s friends finds Hazel and tells her that he saw Jack go into the woods with a tall, thin woman, dressed all in white. Hazel feels that something is terribly wrong with her best friend so she goes into the woods after Jack with a just a compass and her heart to guide her.
As Hazel ventures through the forest she comes upon different characters from numerous fables such as the little matchgirl and the Snow Queen. She also meets a woman who can turn into a swan and a couple who collects little girls to keep in their garden. Hazel moves forward through struggles that seem endless and never gives up hope that she will find Jack and bring him home. Finally, after many mishaps, Hazel finds Jack and makes a deal with the Snow Queen to get him back.
One of the best parts about this story was the fact that fantasy and reality were so intertwined. When Jack stops talking to Hazel it really is possible that it is due to the fact that he has just outgrown their friendship. I couldn’t help but think of the ending of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy wakes up to find that her entire adventure was really a dream. That is how beautiful this book was; the lines were so blurred that it could be taken as real or imaginary. Additionally, the venture through the forest really helped Hazel discover who she really was, with or without Jack beside her. She felt alone in her world, as an adopted child living with her single mother and had a hard time fitting in with anyone but Jack. Throughout the story she questions herself constantly and finally, she becomes comfortable in her own skin and happy with who she is.
This story was brilliant and all things I had hoped it would be. The allusions to different myths and children’s fantasy provided a colorful backdrop for a notable coming of age tale. I recommend Breadcrumbs to readers of all ages, as it will reach out to each reader in different and inspiring ways. This story gives A Tale Dark and Grimm a run for its money as my favorite middle grade novel.