I am torn about my review of Breadcrumbs. I feel as if I need to write two separate reviews because, unfortunately, this is actually two separate stories. As this is a local author and I have not yet read her other work (The Cronus Chronicles series) I was looking forward to reading this Lovelace nominee.
The first half of the story focuses on Hazel. Hazel is in 5th Grade a new school that functions very differently from her former one and where she has all but given up trying to “fit in.” Her father has left Hazel and her mother, rarely calls or visits and is planning to marry and start a new life in another part of the city. Her best friend, Jack, lives next door and, although others may question whether or not a boy and girl can still be best friends at their age, they have no such concerns. They have similar interests in stories and fantasy, able to battle knights and dragons and visit Hogwarts and Harry Potter together without fear of judgment. When Hazel loses her father and Jack’s mother is beset with a debilitating depression they are able to cope by supporting each other.
Hazel’s voice describes her feelings with aching genuineness as Jack’s behavior toward her seems to be changing and she feels herself losing the last real human contact that has helped her survive her recent struggles. Ursu has a chance here to weave a tale of the salvation of escape into stories and literature and when that escape can sometimes lead us to lose opportunities for human contacts and sense of belonging that ground us between the two.
Instead she defaults to her comfort zone by interspersing the fairy tale of The Snow Queen into Hazel’s story when she reveals that Jack has had his eye pierced by a shard of a magic mirror and fallen prey to the White Witch (an almost direct copy of the character from the C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.) As soon as Hazel sets off into the Enchanted Woods to rescue Jack the story falls apart. The fairy tale characters and situations in the Woods are cliché and boring. If Hazel actually knows as much about fairy tales as we are led to believe originally she would never have fallen for any of the transparent evil fairy tale devices used by the other characters.
Having hazel throw out titles and characters from popular kids’ series without any framework or connection is a half-hearted attempt that fails to show Hazel’s dependence ON literature or its usefulness in navigating the real world. By using the second half of the book to make the fairy tale world the focus Ms. Ursu loses her opportunity to help Hazel and the reader learn to appreciate both the worlds of fantasy AND reality and to actively display the transformative power of the arts. In short, the first half of the book is well written and moving. As for the half in the fairy tale lands–too many authors have done a better job for this work to stand up. Instead read Adam Gidwitz’s Grimm series (starting with A Tale Dark and Grimm) or Marissa Meyer’s brilliant Lunar Chronicle series (beginning with Cinder) or the original fairy tales themselves.