Sunday, December 11, 2011

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Once upon a time there was a girl that lived in a cold, cold city. It was so cold and snowy in this city that “it didn’t seem to matter [to the girl] as she was mostly snow herself now. She breathed it, in and out. It collected in her gasping lungs. The snow was colonizing her, breath by breath.”
The girl’s name is Hazel and the city is Minneapolis, Minnesota. Brrrrrrr……

A fairy-tale twist on the Hans Christian Andersen’s, Snow Queen, Hazel is adjusting to a new school, one parent because her dad split from her mom, and a best friend who is a boy that doesn’t want to be her friend anymore because she’s a girl. Hazel struggles to fit in. She is creative and looks different from the other students as a result of being adopted from India. Her best friend Jack is the one person who makes her feel like she belongs. When he starts to show an interest in other boys his age and wants to be with them, Hazel is upset. Jack is going through his own family upheaval. His mom has depression and Jack and Hazel compare it to the Dementor’s in Harry Potter who steal peoples souls from them. Jack’s mom is described as having blank, soulless eyes. When a Snow Queen appears at the park where the kids sled Jack is lured away into an enchanted castle where only Hazel can rescue him.

What a wonderful book with fantastic character development and layered writing. Different phrases appear throughout the book that have to do with how the characters change such as Hazel describing herself and Jack as being “scratchy and thick.” Or how adults say one thing and mean another. Hazel realizes that it is supposed to make a person feel better but they are just “plastic flowers of words.” This is why at the end of the story she doesn’t try to make Jack feel better by saying “everything will be alright.” She knows their friendship is changing and that they might not be best friends forever. But she’s okay with that in the end because it was worth knowing Jack. I’m not sure if young readers will understand that or be confused by the ending. It might seem abrupt. I really liked it with the promise of the future and new things to come as symbolized by the ballet slippers. I also got a kick out of the signed Minnesota Twins Joe Mauer baseball which was the magical object that snapped Jack back to reality. I laughed thinking, “Hazel’s magical wand is a baseball.” I’m a Twins fan so I loved the unique choice.

Hazel and Jack use their imaginations to play, oftentimes acting out stories. The novel is inundated with references to books and movies such as Narnia, When You Reach Me, Peter Pan, The Golden Compass, Harry Potter, The Little Match Girl, The 12 Dancing Princesses, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and more. The author weaves them in the story line and they are, oftentimes, quite funny. For instance, when Jack gets into the sleigh the witch says, “Would you like some Turkish Delight?” Edmund was lured by the White Witch in the Chronicles of Narnia from being fed Turkish Delight. Or the part where Hazel asks a woman if she’s seen Jack. The woman reponds, “The princess saving a knight, eh?” “…I hope the knight doesn’t mind.”

The beginning of the story is realistic and the second half is fantasy. When I was Hazel’s age I would act out books with my best friend. We sat smothered in a hot closet of winter coats wishing with all our hearts for the back to open into the world of Narnia. That’s why I loved the twist in this book where it actually happens to Hazel. All that pretending and she and Jack get to enter their make-believe magical fairy tale world. But to Hazel’s surprise the world of imagination is more dangerous than reality. The author’s description of cold weather will make you feel like an icicle and I recognized some of the places she describes in the book. Minnesota is my home town so this added another layer of fun for me when reading the story. Terrific story and Newbery contender (I hope).

Reading Level: 5.5
:-):-):-):-):-) 5 out of 5 Smileys

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