Breadcrumbs by Anne Orsu

“I believe that the world isn’t always what we see. I believe there are secrets in the woods. And I believe that goodness wins out. So, if someone’s changed overnight—by witch curse or poison apple or were-turtle—you have to show them what’s good. You show them love. That works a surprising amount of the time. And if that doesn’t save them, they’re not worth saving.”

Breadcrumbs is a surprisingly expressive and meditative tale in the tradition of the Chronicles of Narnia and of Rebecca Stead’s Newbery award-winning When You Reach Me. The story teeters on the edge of despair, and as in the ending to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, not everybody necessarily lives totally and completely happily ever after. There is a price to be paid for the rescue of a soul from the clutches of cold and darkness, which is what this particular story is all about.

Ten year old Hazel has a friend named Jack. Hazel and Jack are best friends. But one day Jack rejects Hazel, and then he goes off with the White Witch/Snow Queen into the woods and into the far North. The story echoes Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and it also picks up on other Andersen tales such as The Little Match Girl, The Red Shoes, and The Wild Swans. The story also makes allusions to A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, the fantasy novels of Philip Pullman, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and other fantasy classics, comic books, and fairy tales.

Ms. Orsu’s novel is rife with points for discussion and even argument. How does Hazel keep going on her quest to rescue Jack when she has no hope, no inner strength, and thinks she is literally “nothing.” Where does Hazel get the strength to escape from the snares placed in her way by the world of the woods while others are entrapped forever? What does it mean that Hazel is willing at the end of the story to make new friends and let go of Jack to some extent?

I liked the novel very much, and I liked the questions it raised. Older children and young adults who enjoy thoughtful fantasy/science fiction, such as A Wrinkle in Time and the fairy tale novels of Donna Jo Napoli, will probably like this story of love, friendship, and perseverance.

Other reviews of Breadcrumbs:
Amy at Hope Is the Word: “Replete with literary allusions and even archetypes, Breadcrumbs hovers on the edge of meaning–growing up, friendship, selfhood, it’s all in this story, but it’s right under the edge. I think much of this might be lost on its target audience; I struggle with identifying it all myself.” (Me, too. I think it’s reflective of our times that the author was hesitant to spell out the exact meaning of the story. Andersen ended The Snow Queen with a verse from the Bible. One can hardly imagine a modern author doing the same and actually appealing to a broad audience.)

Sprouts Bookshelf: “Hazel never wavers from the notion that Jack, the real Jack is still in there, and that he needs her now even more than he ever has. Quite a commentary on growing up but not away, this one.” (Maybe that’s the key: it’s a novel about identity and friendship and hanging onto both. To rescue someone you have to know who you are and who he is and who the two of you are together.)

Bekahcubed: “Their friendship might not last through this adventure. Jack might be changed. Hazel might be changed. When Hazel sets out to rescue her friend Jack, she has no promises that life might return to usual. She might be able to rescue Jack, but she has no illusions that she’ll be able to get her friend back.” (Yes, this aspect of the story really spoke to me. Even fairy tales, maybe especially fairy tales, don’t always work out exactly the way you want them to, the way you had planned in your mind. Andersen’s tales in particular are sort of sad and not very happily-ever-after. But that’s the way things are in this world, and the world of fantasy and fairy tale isn’t really a different world at all: it’s only a reflection of the fallen world where we all live.)

Interview with Anne Orsu at Little Willow’s bildungsroman.

Interview with Ms. Orsu at The Reading Zone.

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