Sunday 8 September 2013
#CBR5 Book 112. "Breadcrumbs" by Anne Ursu
Rating: 4 stars
Hazel and Jack are best friends and live just down the street from one another. Until recently, they didn't go to the same school, but after Hazel's dad moved away, she had to change schools and now she's in the classroom across the hall from Jack. Hazel doesn't really fit in at school. None of the other kids were adopted from India and look completely different from their mum and dad. She only really feels like she completely belongs when she's with Jack, and when he's off playing with the other boys, she feels desperately alone.
Of course, there are worse things than your dad leaving your mum and you to manage by yourselves or your friend occasionally playing with others. Your mum could still be there, listless and uncaring, empty-seeming and no longer noticing much of anything, like Jack's mum. Maybe that's why he changes completely one day - becoming mean and distant the day after he had an accident in the school yard, when something seemed to pierce him in the eye? Suddenly he just wants to play with the boys, and ignores Hazel completely. Then he disappears. His parents say he's off taking care of his elderly aunt Bernice, but Hazel's known Jack her entire life - he doesn't have an aunt Bernice. One of the other boys mentions having seen Jack going into the woods, with a tall, icily beautiful, fur-clad woman, like the White Witch of Narnia. But witches aren't real, are they? Hazel knows that she needs to rescue her best friend, even if it means going off into terrible danger.
Breadcrumbs is a wonderful book, which retells the fairy tale The Snow Queen in a wholly original way. While it's meant for middle grade readers, it doesn't underestimate its target audience and deals with bullying, alienation, depression, divorce, the need to belong, the perilous fragility of adolescent friendships and the myriad challenges of growing up. Hazel loves to read, and constantly thinks of things in reference to other children's and YA books (to the point where it almost got a bit tedious, unfortunately). There are nods to fairy tales, J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeleine L'Engle and Neil Gaiman to name but a few.
Having gone to a non-standard school before her parents' divorce, Hazel finds it nearly impossible to adapt to the rigid structures and rules of her new school, where she also struggles to interpret the social codes of her peers, and keeps failing. Something as simple as having a backpack when everyone else has a shoulder bag can make you the odd one out, which can be devastating when you're already a different ethnic makeup to everyone around you.
Hazel has a caring, if struggling mother, and does her best to be a well-behaved and obedient child. She doesn't understand why all the grown ups want her to make friends who aren't Jack, at least until he changes overnight and abandons her. She's a brave and resourceful girl, who knows that going after your best friend when he's possibly been spirited away by an evil witch isn't going to be easy. She faces a number of challenges and dangers on her quest, and despite being told repeatedly that the White Witch never takes anyone who doesn't want to go with her, she refuses to give up on her friend. She doesn't want to stop being his friend, no matter what others, or even he himself, tell her. Through all her reading, she's learnt that sometimes the Knight is the one who needs rescuing, even though he may not realise it himself.
This is a little gem of a book, beautifully illustrated. Well worth a read, I'm very glad I found it.