In Breadcrumbs, Anne Ursu has penned a lively, wistful tale that gets at so much of the poignancy that is being a 10-year-old. This is a moving story that offers a modern-day account of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” In Ursu’s version, Hazel, a ten-year-old Indian-American girl with white (adoptive) parents is best friends with Jack, the boy next door until Jack mysteriously changes. The adults around them chalk up this change to typical pre-teen turmoil: it’s not unusual for girl–boy friendships to become awkward. But the reader can feel Hazel’s sadness. It’s hard to grow up, it’s hard to change and watch others change. Hazel is caught between wanting to fit in and wanting to keep her special friendship with Jack the way it is. At its heart, this is a story about how we can hold onto our real selves even as we change along with our friends.
Ursu complicates her narrative by inserting a strange yet familiar fairy-tale element into her story. Yearning, change, nostalgia, and loss, are all wrapped up in the complex yet comforting metaphors of Andersen’s tale: This is also a book about how a love of books can save you. Ursu has given us a main character who is steeped in story, and she invites the young readers of her book into this literary conversation in a compelling, almost conspiratorial direct address narrative style. Ursu’s writing shows readers what it means to not fit in, what it means to want to keep your friends just as they are, what it means to not want to grow up and turn your back on fairy tales.
Yet there are a few technical missteps that raised my hackles, particularly since we all want our young readers to read and emulate the best writing that is out there. I found a number of textual errors in the book, and I wonder who is copyediting juvenile fiction these days.
Despite the book’s proofreading and copy editing errors, this is an enchanting story that will speak to much that young readers are feeling and thinking.
Reviewer: Maggie Trapp