Last year, I was completely taken by Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm. Seeing a writer incorporate all those awesome old Grimm tales into a story that spoke to contemporary readers made me so happy, and all the gore and humor made my middle school students even happier. You know a book is good when a class of 5th grade boys is begging to miss recess so they can hear more of it!
Today, I am just as taken by Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs, but in a very different way. While Gidwitz is laugh-out-loud funny, Ursu captures the loneliness of the quirky kid’s childhood in metaphor and rich description. Hazel is the odd girl out–always daydreaming, always disappointing people, always teased by the other kids because she Just. Doesn’t. Fit. Except with Jack. Jack is not only Hazel’s friend, but he is her Best Friend, the one person who totally understands her and joins her in her daydreamy world.
But then Jack suddenly turns mean, rejecting Hazel as if they had never been friends at all. And here is where the old fairy tales come in. Jack’s heart has been pierced by a wicked piece of glass, and soon the white witch has taken him off into the woods, and Hazel must go on a quest to find him and bring him home. Most of the story deals with Hazel’s quest, but there are also some chilling scenes that center on Jack and the white witch.
Ursu is an incredibly gifted writer. I loved her Shadow Thieves, which would appeal to many of those Percy Jackson fans with its connection to mythology (the scenes that take place in the Underworld are thrilling), and Breadcrumbs is even better. It’s a bit quieter, with more focus on Hazel’s inner world, and that does slow it down in places. But it’s a great story, and I suspect we might see it on some award lists soon.