Merry Wanderer of the Night  + [YA]

Review: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu is a book I have book looking forward to for months. It's a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. It's one of my very favorites and I don't think it gets enough love among retellings. So when I started seeing this one pop up I started to get a little giddy. (Awesome books do that to you to, be honest here...) I posted a sneak peek on Tuesday and other bloggers have also had excerpts and illustrations going up. (Including Misty at The Book Rat!)

Breadcrumbs is a retelling of The Snow Queen, but there is so much more to it that that. Ursu incorporates snippets, parts and pieces from many different stories and it made the book lover inside me jump up and dance. Our main character, Hazel has a vivid imagination and together with her best friend, Jack, they act out and live out their imaginings frequently. Hazel is told, over and over that she needs to tone down the imagination and return to reality but she is so caught up in magic and wonderings that she can't really be bothered by reality. Anything is possible in your imagination and in stories, the good guys always win, pain is temporary and it doesn't matter that your dad left your family, or his mom can't seem to find her way up and out of her sad.

Jack is who Hazel can always count on and no matter what else is wrong in her life, Hazel has a place to belong with Jack. And things have certainly started to change. Hazel's dad walked away from the family, which means that her mom no longer has the money to send her to the (very unstructured, 'liberal') private school she was attending, and now she must attend public school. It's hard for her because everything is different. What was celebrated before as creativity and a unique way of looking at the world is viewed as disobedience, defiance and distractedness. She also has a hard time making new friends, but she doesn't mind too much, because Jack is there. Yes, Jack's other friends are rude to Hazel and he has to split his time between both of them, but it's what makes life bearable.

Until it all changes. After an accident at recess, Jack no longer has time for Hazel, is rude to her and brushes her off until he disappears altogether. And Hazel sets out to find him.

She walks into the woods where Jack disappeared with the white witch and enters a magical forest where fairy tales are real, where they are happening and where nothing is as it seems. Normal rules do not apply in the forest and Hazel must learn the rules of the wood if she is going to save Jack. She learns a lot about herself on the way and she spends a lot of time worrying about what is going to happen with Jack but she presses on, refuses to give up and with the fierce loyalty and determination that marks her character she pushes through the forest.

The time Hazel spends in the forest is my favorite part of the book. I've been a fan of fairy tales since I was very young and I'm familiar with a lot of the original tales. I read both Grimm's and Anderson's complete fairy tales when I was around 12 and I've revisited the books several times since then. Seeing some of these characters come to life was so exciting to me. And, knowing the stories as I do gave me an advantage. Hazel knows many of the stories too, but it takes her a little longer to really grasp what is happening in her world. She's lonely, scared, tired and afraid and overwhelmed by everything that is happening. But she's strong, she learns and adapts and no matter what happens, she keeps moving, knowing that she must save Jack.

I do wish that we had been given more from the characters. It's my only complaint with the book. We are told many times that Jack is going through a tough time at home because of his mom's depression and we are told that Hazel's life is also rough because of her dad and the changes it's made in other areas of her life, like the new school. And, we see it sometimes, there are moments when it's definitely there, but I didn't feel like it was enough. I was never really sure I believed that these two were hurting as much as I was supposed to, never really sure I believed that what Jack was going through was enough to make him give up everything to the ice. It felt too... disconnected for that. It felt like the characters spent so much time not talking or thinking about the issues that were weighing down on them that they never felt that big. I knew they were that big, knew they were really hurting these two kids, but I never really felt it, not the way I think I was supposed to.

But that one thing aside, this was a completely lovely book. I loved Hazel's character, really felt for her throughout most of the story and really wanted her to do well. Jack was also such a great kid! He does his best to make sure that there is balance in his life between his friends, making time for Hazel and the boys he hung out with before (until the enchantment and all that kicks in) and he struggles to accept, understand and deal with the problems with his mom. He tries so hard and when the Snow Queen offers him a chance to leave it all, offers him an out, you can just feel his relief that he isn't going to have to struggle or suffer anymore. Not feeling anything is better than feeling everything too much.

The forest in this story hold an insane amount of potential. As she is in the woods, Hazel meets a boy a few years older than her named Ben. He helps her and offers her some advice on how to best navigate the woods. And one of the things he tells her is that the woods do funny things to people. Once in the woods, people change and the woods lead them to do things they wouldn't normally do. There is so much potential here, such an unlimited amount of story to be told and I for one am hoping that Ursu returns to these forests in the future. It doesn't have to be Hazel or Jack's story anymore but there is so much story waiting in those woods that I would love to be a part of. And I loved the way Ursu used that subtle magic to show us that there is more to stories than just words on a page. Stories are so much more than that, they go so much deeper. No, you aren't going to walk into a fairy land if you step into the woods near your home, but the truth that stories run far deeper than the page they are written on is a good one to learn.

I also loved the illustrations in the book, but sadly most of them were missing. You just see the big white section telling you the art is yet to come.: ( But there are a few images in the ARC and I've also seen several by following the sneak peeks that bloggers are posting. This is definitely a book I intend to buy after it's release, both because I loved the story and really want to have a finished copy to return to, but also so I can stare at all the pretty pictures.:)

This is a beautiful story. Although I do still love them, I often find that I have a harder time getting pulled into the magical feeling in a modern fairy tale. The modern setting makes it much harder for me to pull out that feeling of a fairy tale. But the way that Ursu crafted this story, especially once Hazel gets into the woods (see, those woods again. I'm telling you, I'm hooked!!) brought out the best of both worlds. I enjoyed the modern setting but I was also able to pull out the feeling you have when you read a fairy tale retelling that just gets it. I'm telling you folks, this is a book to read. I think it's one that will appeal to younger kids looking for something a little longer than most MG (the MCs are in 5th grade) but it will also attract YA readers as well as anyone who loves fairy tales. It's one I already can't wait to read again.

*Disclaimer: I received a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review from Walden Pond Press.