By Anne Ursu
Middle grade/YA fiction
Walden Pond Press
Hazel is a precocious fifth grader who believes in magic and the power of stories, and who relishes time with her best friend, Jack, more than anything. During recess after a particularly intense snowstorm, Jack gets hurt. Then he changes, Then he disappears in Anne Ursu's brilliant and enchanting Breadcrumbs.
What happened is that an imp made a magical mirror, flew it toward the sun to take a look at the entire Earth, and got too close (shades of Icarus!) The mirror shattered and shards fell across the world. One piece fell into Jack's eye. He is whisked away by a Snow Queen who offers him Turkish Delight. (When Jack says, “Huh?” the queen replies that it was “Just a little joke”.)
Hazel, who was adopted by her parents from India when she was an infant, hasn't made friends at the public school her long-time friend Jack has always attended and that she now must go to since her parents divorced. At first, she's the only one to notice the change in Jack and things get worse at school. After she throws a pencil case at a taunting boy, she gets to go to the counselor and a plan of action to help her only cements her despair.
She discovers she must set out on a quest to save her friend. And so she does. Her adventures are indeed the stuff of legend. Ursu references The Snow Queen, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, Coraline, Alice in Wonderland, The Red Shoes, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Nightingale, The Little Matchgirl, The Secret Garden and tales of faerie enchantments. And Hazel's last name is Anderson, as in Hans Christian.
Because quest stories are about more than the surface search, Hazel must wrestle with some hard truths about the nature of friendship and that boys and girls inevitably change and grow apart. As with the entire story, Ursu is not heavy-handed in handling this. Her pacing is such that readers will have the opportunity to put the book down and ponder how they feel about these hard truths.
Breadcrumbs is a future classic for middle grade and middle school students, and adults. High school students may not want to read about a fifth grader but for those who try it, they also would be enchanted with this story.
©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission