Hazel and Jack are fifth graders who have been best friends forever, throughout their difficult young lives. One day, Jack changes and stops speaking with Hazel. It could be that his heart has been turned to ice by a snow queen, or it could just be that he is growing up and apart from her. Hazel must go on a quest to get Jack back, and author Anne Ursu makes it possible to believe that the fairy tale journey into the cold is a metaphor for salvaging a broken friendship.
Hazel’s mission is trying and solitary. Along the way she encounters many strange characters that remind her of her beloved fairy tales. The allusions in Breadcrumbs come fast and furious—Ursu references The Red Shoes, The Little Match Girl, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, and countless more. This makes me wonder who the audience is for the novel. The characters are young, yet I wonder if people their age will like the story. For the most part, I did, enjoying the literary references, Ursu’s beautiful writing, and the sadness that pervades the novel. I don’t know that eleven-year-olds will feel similarly, especially at the end, which trails off, rather than ending definitively.
Breadcrumbs is popular, having been named Book of the Year by Amazon.com, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. There are many things to love, from having an Indian protagonist, Erin McGuire’s gorgeous illustrations, and its thematic depth. Yet it just didn’t click completely for me. I’m in the minority here.