July 20, 2011

Book Talk: Breadcrumbs

I haven't read any reviews of Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, and I won't until I hit the publish button at the bottom of this post. I knew this was a much talked about book, lots of Newbery buzz, and I didn't want to be influenced in my reading or my reviewing. 

I am sure you know the story of The Snow Queen, by Hans Christian Anderson- right? Well, Breadcrumbs is a retelling of this fairy tale aimed at the tween crowd.  Jack and Hazel are best friends and accept each other as they are. Hazel has trouble fitting in and Jack is her only friend. Hazel understands why Jack's mom has distant and sad eyes (she has depression). And Jack understands how Hazel feels about her parent's divorce. He doesn't even ask her what it's like to be adopted. They are soul mates in a sense. 
Jack has chosen Hazel over the mean boys at school and the mean boys aren't happy about that. They go out of their way to torment and tease Hazel. One day at recess, a sliver something happens to Jack that turns his heart to ice. He is mean and nasty to Hazel, and then he just disappears.

Hazel can't stand the idea of going on without Jack, so she makes it her quest to find him and save him. She finds out that Jack was taken by a tall, white woman riding a sled pulled by wolves...enter The White Witch (or snow queen as I think of her). Hazel sets off after Jack and endures many setbacks and bad guys along the way. She also encounters many people/creatures who could have helped her but are too consumed with their own troubles to offer her help.  Hazel attempts to help each of them and is very tempted to stay where she is- until she is pulled toward Jack by the power of love. As Hazel continues on her quest, she grows and matures but remains innocent through it all. And in the end, it is Hazel's love for Jack that might just save him from The Snow Queen.

As I read this book, I just let it wash over me. The words are so beautiful, almost like a lullaby. I wanted to enjoy the story and not pick it apart and analyze the meaning... so I waited until now to do that. Now, don't take my opinion as the right one, or the only one;  I think this book allows the reader to form their own opinions and ideas. I am not a psychology major, so go gentle on me in the comments!

I felt so very heavy as I read this book- I started to become as down as the characters- so it took me longer than usual to finish. I think the Snow Queen (White Witch) is depression... mental illness, perhaps.  Jack's mom had depression and it changed his entire life. He was such a young man to deal with something as serious and devastating as having a mother with depression. Jack may have been looking for a chance to hide from it all and forget about his mom- and The White Witch gave him just that: She froze his heart so he couldn't feel anything. I don't think  she did this to be mean, she does it because she cares about him and doesn't want him to feel any more pain.  (To me, The Snow Queen wasn't a bad guy- just a creature that lived in the woods... no bad intentions).
I thought Hazel was very sad- if not depressed. She struggled with her parents recent divorce, money problems, being adopted,  feeling like she didn't belong, a mean teacher and meaner bullies.  She wanted to sink into that snow as much as Jack did, but her love for Jack (and eventually her mother) kept her from sinking all the way.   As Hazel gets closer to the Snow Queen, her heart starts to freeze (literally) until she stops to smell the roses and remembers what she is after- Jack.

Too much?  I hope not! I don't think I would sell this to kids as a fairy tale about depression- but that's what I took away from it... The White Witch was sadness, depression, death and Hazel was love and light and life.  Jack had to make the choice between the two. 

Hazel makes reference to many well known books and book characters as she ventures on her quest.  She thinks about these characters and stories to help her understand her situation. She decides she would have loved the enchanted woods had she read about them, but it was a completely different thing to find herself in the middle of them! Well-read kids will be tickled by all of the references to great books they have probably read- and might want to read after finishing Breadcrumbs.  It would be fun to see how many book references students can pick out! This would make a wonderful read aloud for kids in grades 4-6. I see both boys and girls in grades 4-8 enjoying this book. It is a quest, a fantasy and a coming of age story all rolled into one.

I am left wondering why 2 animals that are usually bad end up being quite good in this story. Ravens and wolves have a bad rep, but Ursu has rehabilitated them in Breadcrumbs. If you've read the book- tell me why. What did those 2 animals represent in Hazel's life- who were they?  There I go, over analyzing things again! This book will clearly be a front runner in the Newbery race in January.

And if you thought I wasn't crazy enough after reading this post, this is how I picture The White Witch:
My apologies to Anne Ursu


  1. Wow...this will be on my must read to read book list.

  2. This review is amazing. You must be rock star librarian:) Can't wait to read this book!

  3. You had me at "retelling of 'The Snow Queen'" - I am currently on the lookout for YA fiction that has something to do with fractured fairy tales for our bimonthly theme over at GatheringBooks - sounds like one of a possible book I can read for our theme. Thanks for the review!

  4. Kelly, I love the visual of the White Witch! I also love a book that makes me FEEL. Thanks for sharing your response to it.