Quick, it’s been almost two months since I posted anything about fairy tales!
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu This is a Snow Queen retelling. I don’t actually like many Hans Christian Anderson stories, but this retelling made me fall in love with the story. Hazel’s been having a rough time lately, what with her parents’ recent divorce and having to leave her beloved school. Still, she’s at least at the same school as her best friend, Jack, whose home life is also less than stellar. Hazel’s creativity and immersion in fantasy worked well at the old school, but she can’t seem to make friends with classmates or teachers at the new school. And then – we know, but neither Hazel nor Jack do – a magic mirror shard pierces Jack’s eye and freezes his heart. One day, he stops talking to Hazel, and the next, he’s gone. Both Jack and Hazel and Hazel and the new friend her mother is trying to get her to make had been making up a story about the impenetrable fortress of a winter snow queen-type person – where would she live? What would her motives be? And then Hazel’s rival for friendship with Jack tells her that he saw Jack climb onto a sled with an odd-looking woman dressed in white and drive off into the woods. Hazel knows that she is the only one who has a chance of rescuing Jack. She sets off into the woods, woefully underprovisioned. As in “Into the Woods”, the woods by her sledding hill turn into the Woods, into which all real and fairy tale characters wander eventually. It’s full of fairy tales characters and conventions, but while she recognizes pieces, the rules are not quite what she knows from her books, and she must use her wits and work hard to keep her goal close to her heart as she journeys.
When I was a lonely child, I hated books that showed children going from isolated to popular over the course of a single book. So unrealistic! One of Hazel’s challenges here, with or without Jack, is to be able to make more friends. She starts out with no friends besides Jack and ends with having one other friend outside of school and one person at school who will talk to her sometimes, an improvement that makes a nice character arc while still feeling realistic. Hazel is adopted from India, but her parents always focused the fact that they wanted her so much they went to the ends of the earth to get her rather than teaching about her Indian heritage. This becomes an issue for Hazel to explore in the woods, though it’s clear that Hazel being Hazel is more important than Hazel being a different skin color than her parents and not knowing her birth mother. Just as important is her getting to an age where having a boy for a best friend is starting to make people giggle and ask if Jack is her boyfriend. Fans of children’s fantasy will enjoy Hazel’s references to the classics, even as she’s part of a story that isn’t quite any of those. Breadcrumbs is a satisfying fantasy story with well-integrated real-world issues and a delightfully determined heroine.