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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Breadcrumbs, written by Anne Ursu. Walden Pond Press, Harper. 2011. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems.
 ...Things like that happen, at least in the stories you read. It was the sort of snowfall that, if there were any magic to be had in the world, would make it come out.  And magic did come out."

Hazel doesn't fit. She did fit at the arts school she attended before her father left the family. At that school she was allowed to let her imagination run free, and be herself. It is not the same at her new school. She isn't interested in what other fifth graders are, she doesn't look like everyone else. Only her best friend Jack, the boy next door, admires and shares her many interests. As good friends do, Hazel and Jack support each other through tough times, and have always been there for each other.   

Jack is loyal to Hazel and their friendship, but he also wants to spend time with other friends at school and she notices that things between them are changing:

"There were some days, ever since the summer, when the whole feel of Jack seemed to change. Like suddenly, instead of being made of baseball and castles and superheroes and Jack-ness, he was made of something scratchy and thick. Hazel could tell, because he had been her best friend for four years, and you can tell when your best friend is suddenly made of something else. And all she could do was try to remind him what he was really made of."

Then, one day at recess, Jack gets a piece of glass in his eye, and life as they have known it changes. Jack is more apt to ignore Hazel than to notice her. She has no understanding for the changes until Jack disappears. His mother says he has gone to stay with an elderly aunt who needs his help; Hazel knows better. His friend Tyler says he saw Jack at the sledding hill, being led into the forest by a woman in white.

We are privy to the fact that Jack has been lured away by the Snow Queen. We saw her do it. Hazel is frantic to find her best friend, and is able to unravel those clues which set her on a quest to find him and bring him home. The forest's magic is alluring, and frightening. Readers will find themselves intrigued by Hazel's willingness to follow the trail to Jack, despite a brutally cold landscape and the perils along her route. It feels absolutely real even though we know we have entered a magical place.

As she moves further along the path that will ultimately lead to Jack, readers are reminded of folk and fairy tales that may be familiar.  Those who know stories penned by Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, C. S. Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle will be inspired by their inclusion in this quest. Hazel learns about herself as she goes. There are many painful changes that happen as children grow up, and must deal with the realities of adolescence, friendship and family dynamics. They are tough lessons to learn. 

I came away from the reading loving both Hazel and Jack. They share so many interests...Narnia, graphica, Harry Potter, baseball,  imagining other worlds. They have each other's back, and truly like being together.  When the going gets tough, Hazel is willing to put everything on the line to find her best friend, no matter the changes that she is likely to encounter. It is mysterious, wonderful, engaging, thoughtful, heartbreaking and heartmending.

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