59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Your (Geeky) Inner Child
Hazel and Jack have always been best friends, bonding over their shared love of science fiction and fantasy. They play make-believe "superhero baseball" and hang out in a derelict house they call the Shrieking Shack. But now that they're eleven, Hazel's mom is pushing her to make some female friends, and Jack is more interested in hanging out with his male friends than...
Published on September 21, 2011 by Kelly (Fantasy Literature)
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Can't see the forest for the trees
No book is more challenging to read than one that promises so much and delivers so little. It makes you question those who loved it and your own interpretations and reactions. BREADCRUMBS is one such book. In four and a half years of nightly family read-alouds, this is the only book we (two adults, one 8-year-old boy) ever considered not finishing; the only one with so...
Published 21 months ago by Anna Keaney
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59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Your (Geeky) Inner Child,
Ursu perfectly captures what it's like to be a child of about eleven, just on the cusp of puberty but not there yet. You're old enough to know that believing in magic is considered childish, but you don't want to live in a world without it. Social cliques are shifting, sometimes for no discernible reason, and you feel the loss of friendships without ever knowing what went wrong. And maybe your parents get divorced (Hazel's), or maybe they're suffering from a mental illness (Jack's), or even if none of that happens, you're starting to realize they don't have all the answers. Or they don't have the answers you want to hear, or they seem to be answering a subtly different question from the one you're asking. Ursu uses a delicate touch with the familial issues; the book never feels like a Very Special Episode About Divorce or anything like that. Instead, the issues are woven seamlessly into the kids' lives along with their fantasy geekdom.
Later, when Hazel ventures into the realm of fairy tales, she learns that it contains many dangers that "would have been beautiful, as a story." She encounters a variety of odd folk and situations, all drawn not just from fairy tales but from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales in particular. (This was when I finally processed the fact that the heroine's name is "Hazel Anderson"!) She's offered several different kinds of oblivion; the challenge is to press onward even when peaceful forgetfulness would be easier, and to help people along the way if she can. Even if Hazel can find Jack, he may not want to be rescued; maybe he wanted the Snow Queen's brand of oblivion.
Always present, too, is the possibility that Hazel might save Jack from the immediate physical danger but still lose him emotionally. My favorite example of this theme has long been that penultimate transformation in Patricia McKillip's Winter Rose, but now Breadcrumbs is going right up there with it.
Erin McGuire's illustrations are a treat, too. The ARC only has some of the drawings, but they are gorgeous and I can't wait to see the rest. And I adore the cover: the woods, the wolves, and scrappy little Hazel looking just like she's described in the text.
This is a beautifully written book -- and intelligently written, too. Ursu never talks down to her audience in terms of vocabulary or metaphor. Kids will enjoy this, especially kids who are introspective and bookish like Hazel herself, but I think it may actually be even more enjoyable for adults. This isn't so much a book for children as it is a book about childhood, meaningful for readers of all ages. I'm in my thirties and I loved Breadcrumbs. It took me right back to when I was Hazel's age and dealing with some of the same heartaches she was going through. I recommend Breadcrumbs to anyone who is a geeky kid... and anyone who has ever been a geeky kid.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review from The Book Monsters,
Anne Ursu, you have forever changed my opinion of middle grade books. Or at least spoiled me.
Hazel, our MC, was perfect. Not the perfect fit. Not the girl who just runs with the crowd. This girl dances to her own tune. And I loved her for it. For her awkwardness. Her imagination. For most of the novel, I just wanted to jump in and give her a hug. Tell her I understand what it means not to fit. It was like I was reading about my own childhood. Gosh, it was painful to read sometimes. But I loved it at the same time.
Breadcrumbs is like a cup of hot cocoa. It warms you body and soul. Making you want to believe in magic. Believe in the beauty of a snowy day. The snowflakes falling. Each with their own personality. Ursu gives you this imagery. Makes it come to life. Completely transporting me into this tale. Words cannot give justice to the amazement I felt after reading this book. I loved every moment of it. And will be looking forward to more from this gifted author.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Introspective, allegorical retelling of The Snow Queen,
The story opens in the here and now: a snowy Minnesota winter and a fifth grade protagonist named Hazel, who is having trouble adjusting to her parents' divorce, her new school, and her changing relationship with her best friend Jack. One day, a strange shard of glass falls into Jack's eye, and he's suddenly completely different, though no one but Hazel notices. And then a woman made of ice and coldness takes Jack away with her into the woods.
Hazel, of course, plunges in after him. But here's where Breadcrumbs deviates from the fantasy books Hazel herself is a fan of (there are allusions to everything from Neil Gaiman's Coraline to CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy). The magic forest might be filled with strange creatures and perilous adventures, but it really seems to be more of an internal journey through Hazel's own longings, fears, and attachments than an external quest. Ursu weaves in characters from several different Hans Christian Andersen stories, including "The Nightingale" and "The Little Match Girl", and uses them quite brilliantly to illuminate Hazel's struggles as well as her journey towards greater understanding and maturity.
Ultimately, it's a story about growing up and letting go. And perhaps because growing up is something we have to do by ourselves, Breadcrumbs is a pretty lonely, introspective book. Although there are plenty of other characters, only Hazel is in focus, and not everyone will find this (or her) likable. The book also has some pacing issues; the first half of the book, set in the Real World, is relatively slow and not very much happens. The amount of setup it actually accomplishes becomes obvious in the second half, but the woods are definitely the more interesting setting, and everything about them feels a bit rushed. The ending, too.
Still, several days after I finished reading Breadcrumbs, I found that symbols I hadn't really noticed earlier, like the clock in the woods, were continuing to unfold in my head. The former English major in me loves the density and richness of this text and its command of allusion and metaphor. Breadcrumbs is an unusual book with some beautiful writing and striking imagery. But it's definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea, and it'd take a pretty special 8-12 year old to fall in love with it.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely wonderful retelling of The Snow Queen,
Hazel is a dreamer and loves adventure. Hazel's best friend is Jack and together they have the most fabulous adventures. Then Jack stops talking to Hazel and one of Jack's friends tells Hazel that he saw Jack leave with a woman made of ice. Now Jack is gone and Hazel has to make a choice. Should she grow and do normal girl things like her mother is pushing her too? Or should she follow her imagination and try to save Jack from the ice woman?
There are a million things I loved about this book. The writing is beautiful and the descriptions done in such a way that all of the settings come alive for the reader. Hazel is an absolutely wonderful character she is struggling with her dad having left her and her mom; she is struggling with fitting in at a traditional school (she used to go to a creative arts school). The best thing about Hazel though is that she is not afraid to be herself; the problem she has is that she isn't willing to compromise to fit in with other people...as a result her classmates have trouble understanding her.
There are numerous references to geeky fantasy culture things; lots of Harry Potter references along with a number of other references to classic fantasy literature. I enjoyed these a lot. There are parts of the story that made me laugh out loud and were very fun; for example superhero baseball. Jack and Hazel create a fun world of their own and as a reader, it is a world you wish you could live in.
The second half of the book is more serious as Hazel ventures into the woods and is forced to face a number of people who seem nice, but end up being pretty evil. Hazel's quest to rescue Jack teaches her a lot about herself and a lot about growing up. Parts of this book are a little sad because Hazel learns that as she grows there are certain things she will have to leave behind; I think all of us see that as we get older and it is always a bit sad. Jack's background is also a bit sad, he has a mother that is suffering from severe depression and the book talks some about Jack having to deal with that.
There is some magic in the book but the majority of this story is about friendship and growing up. The characters throughout are quirky and interesting. Hazel's journey through the woods is where most of the magic takes place and even there it is more like magical realism than right out magic. The whole story has a fairy tale feel to it, but is still very modern. There is beautiful artwork throughout the book as well (most of the artwork wasn't in the ARC yet but the artwork I did see was breathtaking and really added to the story).
Of course the book takes place in my home state of Minnesota and I love that. Ursu has done an excellent job capturing Minnesota winters and the adventure that driving through them can provide.
Overall I loved everything about this book. I loved the characters, the writing, the description, the story, all the quirky reference to fantasy literature, and the lessons Hazel learns throughout. I will definitely be reading anything that Ursu writes in the future. I just love this book so much! If you are a fan of fantasy adventure or fairy tales pick up this book as soon as it releases! The book might get a bit scary for younger children, but in general it is appropriate for all ages.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Can't see the forest for the trees,
BREADCRUMBS, written by Anne Ursu, tells the story of Hazel Anderson, a Minneapolis fifth-grader who is concerned that her best friend, Jack, has been magically altered or injured so that his personality is completely changed. When Jack appears to go missing, she treks into the woods to find him and bring him home. The first half of the book deals with Hazel's school and home experiences and her worry over Jack; the second half details her experiences in the woods by way of small vignettes with a variety of characters from Hans Christian Andersen's tales. Ms. Ursu references (and lifts from) numerous classic fantasy works throughout, from NARNIA to THE GOLDEN COMPASS to CORALINE to THE HOBBIT, and attempts to weave a magical vein throughout the story until Hazel's final confrontation with Jack.
Unfortunately, the promise of that outline goes unfulfilled, largely due to the deep unlikability of the main character. My son at first thought that Hazel just didn't seem very "alive"; by the end he was bored by her self-centeredness. My partner thought that the author couldn't possibly be creating such a self-involved character without going on to prove that she was so, and thereby having her grow and reflect on her past actions. I harbored no such illusions: I felt from the beginning that Hazel was selfish, self-absorbed, self-pitying, and ignorant of any other perspective than her own. Sadly, she remained that way nearly through the end of the story: it took until page 250 of a 312-page book for Hazel to commit her first selfless act, and she is by no means "cured" of her selfishness from that point on. Frankly, it was far too little, far too late; there was no recovering at that point as we slogged through to the end.
What went wrong? On the surface, Hazel has the trappings of a great main character. She is bright, creative, imaginative, and caring. She has a sympathetic outsider perspective because of her heritage: she was adopted as an infant from India by her White parents, who are now divorced. A few months before BREADCRUMBS starts she is transplanted from a wealthy private school to a public one, and continues to struggle with bullying and fitting in. All of this makes Hazel sound like a prime character to embark on a quest and discover herself.
This does not happen, and the fault is in the writing. We never actually see Hazel being bright or creative or imaginative; we are only told that she was considered so at her last school. We do get a glimpse of imagination when she participates in story invention with her acquaintance Adelaide, but she is no more creative than Adelaide is. Her friend Jack is actually the one with the most imagination; he draws comics and makes up games that Hazel greedily devours, but does not contribute to herself. Hazel's difficulty with being Indian in a primarily White school is illustrated once in a flashback in which Hazel describes seeing another girl of color at a school gathering and attempting half-heartedly to connect with her. But the scene suffers from the same self-absorbtion as the rest of the story: a similar encounter was described much more poignantly (and succinctly) in Bette Bao Lord's IN THE YEAR OF THE BOAR AND JACKIE ROBINSON.
As far as Hazel's supposed capacity for caring, this is grossly misrepresented. Hazel does not care for Jack so much as she is obsessed with him. She is consumed with possessing his attention and time, and only grudgingly "allows" him to spend time with any other friends. She makes no effort to try to get along with those friends, and only waits, sullenly, until Jack is ready to be "hers" again. She has no pastimes or interests or activities outside of what Jack brings her; despite her constant literary references I don't believe we ever actually see Hazel enjoying a book. She reads, but it is only to kill time. At one point Hazel states that "nothing really happened to her unless she told Jack about it", and this is entirely true. There is nothing in herself that makes herself Hazel; that makes her real and alive and sympathetic.
And yet the author never acknowledges this in any way. For someone clearly familiar with children's literature, Ms. Ursu would have done well to utilize the key element of underdog charm: the promotion of self without the condemnation of others. For instance, THE GOLDEN COMPASS' Lyra, another girl on a quest to save a friend, finds strength in herself without putting down those around her. Diana Wynne Jones' Christopher Chant (THE CHRONICLES OF CHRESTOMANCI), who actually IS the center of his universe(s) and comes from a family more isolated and troubled than Hazel's, looks back on his self-centeredness and realizes his mistakes. He revisits past encounters, feels remorse and shame, and uses his new knowledge to move forward. Cynthia Voigt's Dicey, Mina, and Jeff (THE TILLERMAN CYCLE) are separated from their peers by combinations of class, race, personality, and history, yet suffer and work through their differences while letting those around them just be. Even Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet Welsch (HARRIET THE SPY, THE LONG SECRET), prickly and critical throughout, learns to see life more clearly by watching how others experience it. All of these flawed characters are wonderful because their imperfections mold their personalities as they learn to grow and accept them. Most importantly, they learn how to see through eyes other than their own.
These authors clearly loved their characters. Yet they did not let that love blind them to their many faults. In contrast, I strongly felt that Ms. Ursu was insufferably smug in her approval of Hazel's actions. All in the guise of "being an outsider," Hazel judges everyone around her (teachers, family, kids, former friends) and dismisses help when it is offered. In turn, she does absolutely nothing to help herself: she never draws on her "creativity" or "imagination" to create a world or to define herself. Everyone and everything is genuinely presented either to be against her or for her use. In the forest she comes across three women who don't give Hazel what she wants, and she responds with "They were supposed to help her. Why were they there, if not to help her?" Ms. Ursu displays no irony or awareness when writing these sentiments; she clearly feels that Hazel is indeed being dealt an unfair blow. At school, Hazel is bullied. But in her own way, she bullies back by continually stating, mostly to herself and at times to others, how the ignorant kids aren't up to her level, how the teachers are cruel idiots, and how she can't ever get what she wants in life due to other people's failure to correctly set up the world. Here is where the writing is at its worst: it creaks and clunks across the page, managing to be desperately overwrought and still empty of any real feeling. Over and over again for the entire first half of the story we are treated to lengthy, heavy-handed descriptions of Hazel's isolation and suffering; isolation she has, in part, created for herself by her snobbery, and suffering that is no less self-inflicted by her melodramatic self-absorption. Jack's act of "meanness" is hardly so, but Hazel never stops to think that maybe he had a bad day? Maybe he wants to do something else for an afternoon? Maybe he's socially awkward around different friends? Or maybe he genuinely doesn't like her anymore? All of which are possible...but not to Hazel, for whom a moment of mild rejection is the end of her myopic world, signifying insidious, malevolent magics at work. The fact that she was right and they WERE at work only supports Ms. Ursu's position that Hazel is correct in what she does, that she sees more clearly than others, that she is better than they are. If you step back and see what actually happens with an impartial eye, such a claim is not only ludicrous, it is offensive.
The damage is done early and often, but the second half of the book is no more enjoyable to read. The two halves of the story have little to do with each other stylistically, save the overblown writing. Over the last 75 pages, less time is spent bemoaning Hazel's state (although we are by no means reprieved of this), which would sound promising if the story weren't so deeply mired in dullness: the fairy-tale vignettes barely connect to each other save by a menacing-nature theme which goes nowhere. And as I stated earlier, any redeeming quality (we as a family could count them on one hand and have fingers left over) was too little, too late. It would have taken a huge act of skill to make Hazel likable and make her journey worth reading. BREADCRUMBS was not capable of this act.
This is a lengthy review, I know. But I wrote it because so many people apparently loved this story; I wrote it to explain my (our) deep disagreement with its entire approach, not to dismiss it out of hand as if I hadn't read and measured it thoughtfully. For some reason, we all were so excited to read it: the artwork is lovely and the jacket descriptions and quotes enticing. But it in no way delivered what we thought we'd get out of it. My son hoped for a quest to spirits, creatures, and nature. My partner hoped for symbolism and a link to myths and tales past. I hoped for something otherworldly, a gem of a story to add to the pantheon. We all hoped for magic. We were all sorely disappointed.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, But Not For Youngsters,
Our protagonist, Hazel, is a 5th grader at a new school. Hazel is full of creativity and imagination, but she is a round peg in a square hole, and she just doesn't fit in the box that her teachers want to put her in. The only light in her school life is Jack, her best friend of many years, who is just like her and completely understands. The two are inseparable, until one day, Jack gets an odd piece of glass in his eye and his personality completely changes. And a few days later, Jack just disappears into the woods, without a trace. Hazel is desperate to find him, and she know that she must follow him into the woods. But these woods are a portal to another place, one that Hazel must learn to navigate on her own in order save Jack...and herself.
There is a lot to like about BREADCRUMBS. The references to nearly ever story I've ever read really appealed to my inner geek. The pacing is quick, and the writing is smooth and easy. The premise is clever and presents coming of age in an unique way. BREADCRUMBS is dark and edgy and actually quite sad, all of which made me want to keep reading.
My only issue is the age group for which BREADCRUMBS is intended. The book jacket say that this is for ages 8-12 grades 3-7. I have a very advanced 7 year old (she reads at about a 4th grade level), and I think this story is too dark for her. I think it is too dark and sad for 3rd, 4th, and most 5th graders as well. I would be more comfortable if this was directed to middle schoolers (6th, 7th, and 8th), and above; and, in fact, I would recommend it to them and adults as well.
I personally enjoyed BREADCRUMBS and would recommend it to others. But I will not give it my daughter for another few years. Why do we try to make kids grow up so fast? We need to let them be kids.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breadcrumbs: Worthy of the Buzz,
Hazel has always been best friends with Jack, her neighbor. Aside from him, she feels lonely and is dealing with her parents divorce and a new school, no longer able to afford the private school she had attended. Jack is now interested in hanging out with other boys his age and is growing away from his desire to play make believe with Hazel.
After getting injured at school one day Jack doesn't return the next day and Hazel wonders and worries what has become of him. When she hears that he has entered the forest near their homes with a strange woman, Hazel decides to go and find him. What she finds is a fantasy world where she encounters different dangers as she searches for her friend.
I loved the Minneapolis setting because of its familiarity to me and Ursu did a great job of drawing me into the story from the first page. While I am not somone who gravitates toward the fantasy genre, I enjoyed Hazel and Jack's story very much. I am also not familiar with the Snow Queen as a fairy tale, but Breadcrumbs has piqued my interest and reading this will be a great springboard to interest my students in this new title.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Puzzling Mix of Genres,
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The other main problem is the genre hiccup. As some other reviewers have noted, the first part of the book is a sweet, realistic fiction coming of age story. Then, all of a sudden, a random, unexplained, trouble making creature breaks a mirror which falls to Earth changing things in a dark and highly random way. What follows is a series of fantasy riffs which don't really hang together as a coherent story. Characters are introduced and dropped without a strong through line.
I also take issue with the ending. I don't like it when everything is tied up in a painfully neat bow, but I appreciate some resolution. I got to the end of the book, and kept flipping pages thinking, Really? This is where you're going to stop?
Overall, this would be a good snow-day read for a well versed fantasy/sci-fi fan who doesn't mind a lack of closure.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An epic adventure in an enchanted forest.,
The book has a bit of a slow start, but you do get the background stories for everyone involved. But once Hazel ventured out into the unknown in search of Jack, that's when things got really good. Stepping into a fairy tale forest should be enchanting, shouldn't it? For Hazel, it wasn't. It was horrible and confusing and scary. And nothing seemed to make sense! I admired her determination to find Jack and how hard she pushed herself even after knowing Jack might not want to come back.
I loved the references to many other fairy tales in this book and I loved the scary parts that made you think of the button eyed mom in Coraline.
And this might be a bit spoilery, but I also loved how the queen asked Jack if he'd like a Turkish Delight before whisking him away lol.
I've never read The Snow Queen and the only thing close to it I can imagine is Narnia but either way, I absolutely enjoyed this read and I enjoyed joining Hazel on her epic adventure!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fairy tale for adults and children to enjoy,
Anne Ursu is a wonderful writer that captures the eleven year old experience, between childhood and teenage years. Changes abound because of Hazel's age. Magic and imagination games become childish and targets of ridicule. She's expected to spend more time with girls and develop more gender appropriate interests. These expectations come not only from her parents, but also from her classmates. When she was forced to spend time with other people, she had fun, but seemed scared to make new friends. She also felt that she was betraying Jack, her best and only friend. It comes from resisting change and not wanting to realize that people change over time. When Jack suddenly turns on her, she feels hurt and alone and she doesn't know what she did. At any stage in life, relationships can suddenly change and people can grow apart without any real fault on either side. I think anyone can relate to the relationship aspects of the book because everyone suffers from societal expectations and changing friendships.
Breadcrumbs is like reading two separate books. The first half that takes place in the normal world is infused with Hazel's imagination and sense of humor. She describes things in hilarious ways that I wouldn't even think of and she's constantly referencing fantasy books, such as Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Coraline. She uses her interest in fantasy to color and explain the world around her and its harsh realities. When she ventured in to the forest, the tone changed considerably. The narrative takes on a dark tone, leaving the humor behind. When read in fairy tales, some of the situations are interesting and beautiful, but when you are put into them, they become your harsh reality. The fairy tales encountered by Hazel are all based on Hans Christian Andersen's art tales with a little twist. These tales aren't about princesses or magical kisses, but about little match girls left to die out in the snow and magic shoes that cause the wearer to dance to death. I really liked that Anne Ursu never talked down to her readers and didn't sugar coat the harsh realities in and out of the fairy tale world. Even if Hazel saved Jack, she may still have lost him as a friend.
Breadcrumbs is an excellent book about childhood that both children and adults can enjoy. I would recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy, fairy tales, and is still young at heart.
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