Welcome to my blog. I often think I was born with a book in my hand. I have always enjoyed reading, but more importantly, talking about books. This blog is partially about reviews, but is really a forum to talk about what I'm reading, and express all of the thoughts and feelings that there simply isn't room for in a professional review. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your favourite books as you follow my reading journey.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Breadcrumbs: A Bewitching and Spellbinding Middle Grade Read

Fifth-graders Hazel and Jack have been best friends forever. Hazel, with her active imagination has difficulty fitting into her new school, but Jack gets her, and he's always managed to balance spending time with her and spending time with "the guys". Sure they've had their arguments, but they've never stayed angry for long- until they did. Until the day that something hits Jack in the eye and suddenly he's mean to her. Until the day that he disappears into the snow-covered woods with the woman made of ice, and doesn't come back. Everybody believes that Jack has gone off to look after an elderly aunt out of town, but Hazel knows that isn't true. Only Hazel knows where he's really gone, and now she must muster all of her courage and venture into the mysterious woods to rescue him and bring him back.

Anne Ursu's new middle-grade novel has been receiving tons of praise this autumn, and it's deserving of every penny. This is exactly the kind of story that I would have loved when I was a kid, and I loved it now. So much in fact that I actually got a finished copy of the book to keep after I was finished with the ARC.  For those of you who are familiar with the Andersen's fairy tale The Snow Queen, you will immediately pick up on the elements of the story on which this is based, but there is so much more to it than just a straight retelling.

Hazel is the kind of character that you'll fall in love with, and your heart will break for her. Things haven't been easy for her lately. Her parents split up, her father moved away, and now her mother has had to take her out of the private school where she was happy and has put her into public school where she has difficulty fitting in. She's a dreamer with a fantastic imagination, and how can math possibly be more interesting than the magic of snowflakes? Her teacher dislikes her, the other kids tease her, and except for Jack, school is miserable. Hazel's mother is sympathetic, but she's having enough trouble trying to keep their heads above water, and would really like Hazel to just be a normal kid. She even arranges a play date with the daughter of a friend who is about Hazel's age, hoping that they'll become friends. Hazel gets along well-enough with the girl, but she isn't Jack.

Jack has also had a difficult time of things. His mother has been in a deep depression for some time, and his father does the best he can, but it doesn't take away the sting of missing his mother who is there but not really there. When a shard of glass from the Snow Queen's mirror hits him in the eye, everything changes. He is mean to Hazel and stops talking to her with no explanation. Hazel's mother tries to tell her that sometimes it just happens that boys and girls stop being friends, but she refuses to accept this explanation, or the one for his disappearance, and she musters her courage to go and rescue him.

This is such a beautifully written book, and I just loved the references to Narnia and to other classic fairy tales. In a particularly clever moment, the Snow Queen asks Jack if he'd like some Turkish Delight. Jack of course not being familiar with stories doesn't understand, but readers who know the story will appreciate the reference. Once Hazel enters the woods, there are several temptations to distract her from her cause, including a pair of beautiful red ballet shoes, which she would sorely love to have. Meanwhile, Jack's story becomes a more direct retelling of The Snow Queen, and he thinks only of pleasing the beautiful white lady who finds him charming and rewards him with a kiss when he's been good.

This is a story about friendship, loyalty, courage, grief and loss, and not just in a someone died kind of way, but the many different kinds of loss we experience in our lives, and I highly recommend this as a book to be read-aloud and shared, or read alone and treasured by every child who will recognize themselves in Hazel and Jack.