Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Release Date: September 27, 2011
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Pages: 313
Received: ARC from Heather at Buried in Books
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn't help it - Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn't fit anywhere else.

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it's never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack's heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it's up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she's read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn't the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.


I'm back in my secret bunker

Why? Because I didn't really like Breadcrumbs. To say my expectations were high is an understatement. I love fairy tale retellings, the cover is beautiful, and a friend even mailed me her copy to read (after she loved it). People are even talking Newbery!

I have a lot to hide from.

I am the wrong reader for this book

Yes, Breadcrumbs is a fairy tale retelling, but it is also a contemporary and deals with issues of depression, friends growing apart, divorce, adoption, and not fitting in. Hazel is so incredibly lost and her sadness is a tangible thing. I didn't expect any of this going in, so I was very shocked when half of the book focused solely on these topics.

Breadcrumbs is broken into two mostly equal-length parts. Part one is almost completely contemporary and only contains one tiny bit of fantasy (which is more metaphorical than fantastical). This section follows Hazel as she struggles with all of those issues I mentioned.

I was totally bored with this part. I'm not really a contemporary reader, and I'm really not a contemporary issues reader. Between Jack's mother's depression, Hazel's absent (through recent divorce and remarriage) father, Jack's falling out with Hazel, and Hazel's difficulties in school, I felt completely bogged down with sadness. And boredom. I just don't like reading about these sorts of things.

I couldn't relate

Breadcrumbs uses the third-person omniscient narration style, with a sometimes focus on Hazel's perspective. I had a really hard time getting into the book because of this narration style and the randomness of its application.

Sometimes it felt like an adult voice, sort of like a "Once upon a time" type of narrator. Other times it felt like the voice of Hazel, which seemed to me like a very young MG or even elementary school voice. I never felt like I could settle into the story due to these changes in narration voice.

Usually I'm ok with MG book, even when they're written on the younger end, but Hazel felt a little too young for my tastes. I also had difficulty connecting with her personality so I never felt invested in her or her story. That isn't to say there is something wrong with the way Hazel is written. We're just very different people.

Hazel is an extremely imaginative girl and I'm...not. At least, not like Hazel. She's so focused on her imaginings that her dreamy tendencies are causing her trouble in school. This is another point I could not relate to at all because I was the most anal rule-following elementary school kid imaginable.

Part 2, or when the fairy tale finally started

I was a lot more engaged with part 2 due to the fantasy aspects. Hazel's wandering through the woods in search of Jack felt almost like Alice's experiences in Wonderland (which I never liked, and didn't love it in this version either).

Hazel encounters many different fairy tale characters, but they're not the ones you might expect. Anne Ursu incorporated a bunch of the more obscure Grimms' tales, but these tended to be the darker stories (think chopped off limbs, torture, and death).

I liked this for its freshness, but I was kind of bummed that part 2 carried over the sad, oppressive feelings that part 1 focused on.

What kind of reader IS a good match?

I couldn't help but wonder who I would give this book to in my library. Hazel's voice is so young, but the fairy tales would probably disturb my younger library kids who might otherwise relate to her (I can't speak for your kids or library kids). There isn't much resolution of Hazel's real life troubles, and there are no happy endings with the fairy tale aspects.

If it weren't for the lack of resolution (and for some kids, the darker elements) I would have recommended Breadcrumbs in a heartbeat. Any kid going through similar problems to the ones Hazel experiences in part 1 would probably find Breadcrumbs extremely easy to relate to. They would also probably find it comforting to see their situations so sensitively mirrored.

The lack of resolution gives me pause though. The Snow Queen story arc is resolved, but in real life kids who experience a break with a childhood friend aren't going to find their solution so easily. While they may related to Hazel's difficulties in school or her situation with her parents' divorce, Breadcrumbs offers very little in terms of a happy ending or way of coping (in fact, pretty much all of those plot points are left as loose ends).

So who WILL like Breadcrumbs? Adults, I think. Anne Ursu does a beautiful job using imagery and fantasy elements as a metaphor for Hazel's issues. There is much to discuss from a literary standpoint and the characters as emotional vignettes are palpably drawn.

I don't feel like the book came together in a cohesive manner (too many different directions, loose ends, inconsistencies in voice) but each individual part was well-written. The very thing I didn't like--the oppressive sadness--is in itself a testament to Anne Ursu's ability to powerfully convey the emotional state of her characters.

Bottom line

Not for me. I wasn't feeling Hazel or the story (or really much of anything beyond this is so depressing) and I didn't like how so much time was spent in the contemporary world (only to abandon pretty much all of those threads in part 2).

There were a few bright spots that caught my attention (Hazel's friend's uncle, the presentation of some of the fairy tales--though NOT The Snow Queen), but I disliked Breadcrumbs more than I liked it.

I'd take my review with a grain of salt though because what this all boils down to is Breadcrumbs and I were just a case of "Wrong book, wrong reader." For a review from a reader who loved Breadcrumbs, head on over to Buried in Books (she's also holding a giveaway with a chance to win a copy of Breadcrumbs!).

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Breadcrumbs that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!


  1. Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy it! It's hard when it seems like everyone except you loved the book... I've had that happen a couple times. Sigh. But that's what honest reviewing is about. I personally love fairytale re-tellings but that just what I like - the fairy tale part not too much contemporary in there (I like those but not in fairy tales). Thanks for the honest review Small! Don't feel bad, your right, sometimes as readers we're just not the one for the book :)

  2. Too bad this didn't work for you. Sometimes award winning books = bad books. Also, I'm not a big fan of third person omniscient. It feels removed.

  3. Thanks so much for this review. Breadcrumbs was firmly on my TBR, but now I'm not sure if I really want to read it. I've found that you generally have the same reaction to books as I do, so it was really helpful to hear your opinion. I'm sorry to hear you didn't enjoy it, though. Oh well.

    By the way, have you read any of Anne Ursu's other books? From what I've heard, I'm pretty sure they have more of what you enjoyed and less of what you didn't. I'd love to hear what you think of them.

  4. Thanks for the well rounded review. I can tell after reading it that I'm just not the right reader for this book either.

  5. Lulu, I love fairy tale retelling too, but not so much contemporaries (unless the contemporary is like a cute romantic comedy, which this was not :P ) You're right though, it may be hard to be alone, but we need to be honest :)

    Alison, I don't think this is so much a bad book, but I do notice that a lot of Newbery books are liked more by adults than kids (which says what about me agreeing with the kids more than the adults :P) I agree about third person omniscient.

    Pica, Aw, you might like it! Everyone else is loving it. I haven't read any of her other books, yet. I own one of them though! So I'll be reading it...eventually :P

    Leanna, You're welcome!

  6. I'm already fascinated by this book, Small. I find your reasons of not connecting this book also very interesting, particularly on how kids will react to this book. It reminds me of Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book" where lots of adults loved the book and from the group of kids that I hang around with just thought it was merely ok. I don't know much about the Snow Queen fairytale at all, but I'm definitely curious to read this one. I'll have to see if my library has it or plans to order it. Thanks for your honest review!

  7. Awww BUMMER! I've been so looking forward to this one and am sad you didn't like it... :( The aspects of depression and divorce are new to me and I wonder what I'll think of it when I get into it...
    Great review! (As always) ;)

  8. I'm so sorry you didn't like it since I pushed it on you and told you how beautiful it was. I guess I read it as an adult and none of the aspects that bothered you, bothered me. I took them for granted. Maybe it should be classified as a realistic fairy tale retelling or a contemporary fairy tale retelling. I think the second works better because it is definitely set in the contemporary world at first dealing with contemporary issues.

    I'm so disappointed you didn't love it like me! Oh well, we can't always love the same books.

    I am giving away a copy if anyone is interested in reading it at

  9. Rummanah, I'm not sure how ALL kids will react, but the kids I know would probably react that way. I have noticed that a lot of Newbery books get a ton or adult love, but the kids are often kinda meh on them. Except The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (which I think was an Honor not a Medal), which I love to pieces and have squee-fests of love with about with my library girls :P I hope you like Breadcrumbs! There is a lot to like, it just wasn't for me.

    Sierra, You might still like it! You know me though, I want sparkles and happy thoughts and princesses and kissing. Not issues. I think you would appreciate a lot of the literary aspects.

    Heather, Aw you have nothing to apologize for my friend! A contemporary fairy tale retelling is a PERFECT description! (Look at you with your link! I'm so proud of you!!)

  10. I was really interested in this one but I think I'll skip it now. I love fairytale re-tellings too and while I think they can be written in a number of ways, I figured this would be mainly a fantasy and not half fantasy and half contemporary. I'm a big contemp fan too but when you're not expecting those elements to be there (or in my case would rather not have them in my face while reading a fantasy), it takes away the enjoyment.

  11. A Canadian Girl, If you like contemp, then you might like Breadcrumbs a lot (especially since those parts won't be a surprise now). They are integrated well with the fairy tale parts working more as metaphors for the contemporary issues than as standalone fantasy elements. I'd say Breadcrumbs is a contemporary first and a fairy tale retelling second, if that makes sense. :)

  12. Ah, interesting! I was thinking about requesting this but middle grade books are a hit or miss with me so I decided to pass on it for now.

  13. Really thoughtful, well-written review. It's actually made me want to read the book just to see what I think. I expect sadness, because Hans Christian Andersen tales are sad and often have unhappy endings. I think I might relate to Hazel a little more than you did, but I'm not sure I like the idea of 2 different sections to the book. I don't like it when there are huge swings in tone and style. Hmmm. You've certainly made me think!

  14. Need-Tea, Hazel has a VERY young voice, but the tone of the book is older. So it's kind of very young MG, but also not.

    TG, Thank you! Oh yes, you're very right about the Hans Christian Andersen tales. There's no sugarcoating of them here either. The two sections are different, but the metaphor and Hazel's overarching personal journey tie them together well, I thought.

  15. Uh-Oh, not a good fit for you huh? I'm sorta getting the hang of what your likes are. But I'm curious now, have there ever been any third person perspective books you HAVE enjoyed?

    I LOVED your review, for someone who didn't like the book much you really educated potential readers on what it was that didn't work.

    So, what I know now, after reading your review is that I probably would like this book. I like contemporary, though it not my favorite genre, mixed with fantasy elements makes the book enticing for me.

    So, if you have any desire to pass the book along to another kind sole, I'm standing in line lol!

    PS: The cover is so swoonworthy though, you may want to keep it just to look at it every now and then. :-)

  16. Gina, Thank you! I try :) I can see you liking this book. I think the things that I didn't love wouldn't be as much of an issue for you. The cover really is beautiful. There are going to be illustrations in the finished version, but the ARC has two and they're both very nice.

  17. Awesome honest review. Sometimes a book just doesn't work.

  18. Juju, Thank you! I agree, there isn't anything wrong with the book, it just isn't for me.

  19. It makes me sad that you didn't love this one, but given your general dislike for Contemp issue books, I can see why you wouldn't.

    I loved this one (although not as much as some) but can see why it wouldn't be your fave. Great review though. Very well written. :)


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