Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu is a modern retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen."
Using fairy tales as a backdrop, Ursu weaves a tale about loss, change, and the challenges that come with trying to deal with them.
The main character is Hazel, 11 years old. She was born in India but was adopted as a baby. Now she struggles with fitting in. The only real friend she has is her next door neighbor, a boy named Jack. Since they are both 5th graders, they are both having to deal with an age where boys and girls don't play together. At their elementary school, a boy and girl who hang around each other are seen as "going together." But they're not. They're just friends, though Hazel sees a subtle shifting in Jack's behavior towards her. Even her own mother is trying to encourage her to play less with Jack and more with a girl named Adelaide.
Being a girl who doesn't fit in, Hazel doesn't want to give up her friendship with Jack because she feels that she does fit with him. They both have big imaginations and love to create their own worlds. There is a lot of references to not only Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales (The Little Matchstick Girl, The Red Slippers) but nods to Narnia, Middle Earth, Hogwarts, and A Wrinkle in Time.
Then, one day, Jack disappears.
Tyler, a friend of Jack's who has always disliked Hazel, then confesses to her that he saw Jack go off with a woman "all white and silver and made of snow . . . like an elf or a witch . . ." At first, Hazel thinks he's only saying this to make fun of her, just like how he calls her "Crazy Hazy," but Tyler looks so serious. Eventually, Hazel begins to believe that Tyler was telling her the truth and she sets off into the woods to find Jack.
Like all fairy tales, Breadcrumbs contains both magical and dark elements that work to tell the story of a girl who desperately wants to belong. In one of the chapters, entitled "Temptations," she even wrestles with her being adopted and the issue of her birth parents. Ursu writes:
"She wondered about her birth parents and if they ever wished for her, if they knew what had happened to her, if they knew she was half a world away. Or was she only a missing piece to them, a hole at the center of things, an ache that had no name?"
It is this struggle that really makes the whole narrative moving that speaks about the need to belong and the transforming power of friendship.
The wonderful illustrations are by Erin McGuire.