Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu at the high recommendation of both Stephanie and Amy. I knew I wanted to read it sooner rather than later and it worked out that it was my month to select a book for my intown book club. I picked this one so that I'd have the excuse to get to it quickly.
Breadcrumbs is meant to be a retelling of Anderson's "The Snow Queen." The story is set in modern day American and follows two friends, Hazel and Jack. Hazel and Jack have been best buds since they were small children and at the time we meet them they are in fifth grade and their relationship is starting to get a little rocky, given that Jack is now interested in spending his free time playing with boys and not just Hazel. Hazel is quite devastated to be losing her friendship with Jack and we observe her struggles throughout the book as she seeks to "win back" his friendship.
The story takes a turn for the interesting when Hazel, Jack and his male friends are outside at recess when something flies into Jack's eye. No one knows exactly what hit Jack in the eye, but they do notice that after this event Jack becomes an entirely different person, distancing himself from Hazel even more forcefully. Then, one day, Jack disappears. He was last spotted entering the woods and Hazel determines to enter the woods and find him herself. What she ends up finding in the woods defies imagination. It is not a place that you want to be, that's for certain. In order to bring Jack home, she finds herself needing to defeat a White Witch.
For some reason (though when I go back and read Stephanie and Amy's thoughts, I'm not sure entirely why) I had the impression that this was a re-telling of a story tale with a clear differentiation between good and evil. I believed when I began reading that, while I might not like some of the characters, everything was going to work out to my black-and-white satisfaction in the end. This was not particularly so. I can't really say that I loved the book because it flopped for me as a "moral tale" (if you will pardon that phrase in this instance). I can certainly tell which characters are meant to be good and which are designed for evil purposes but the victory is remarkably unclear in the end (in my opinion). Since I was reading the book expecting a lovely lesson about truth and honor, the book fell sort of flat for me. However, if I look at the book as a diverting story which has entertainment value, then I like it ok. I didn't die for love of it but I didn't hate it either. It was entertaining (wondering what was going to happen) and it was diverting (I was not bored reading it).
We discussed this book at our last book club meeting, as I mentioned, and it came out with mixed reviews. A few people "hated it" because they thought the author's writing poor. I would agree that Ursu isn't a genius when it comes to storytelling, but I wasn't groaning over it either. She's average in a world of modern story-tellers. Ursu does name and title drops a lot of references to other stories in the telling of her own and I found that rather distracting. She dates herself as an author and I can't imagine that this book will be heralded as the greatest of classics. However, I also did not feel as if I wasted my time reading it.
One member of our book club said that she enjoyed the psychological aspect of this tale. There is reason to question the belief of the woods very existence. Hazel is undergoing quite a bit of trauma in her life when we meet up with her. Her best friend is rejecting her, her father left Hazel and her mother and is getting remarried and Hazel is not fitting in with the other kids at school. It raised the question of whether or not Hazel was making up a story for herself about the woods in order to cope with the challenges. This is an interesting point to ponder and hearing this person's perspective on the read made me like the book a little bit more than I did upon completing it. I suppose in some ways you might peg this as a coming-of-age story.
In my opinion, a book such as this one makes a great book club read because there are plenty of topics to be addressed: male/female friendships, adoption and security issues, divorce, fantasy, imagination, good and evil, and the desire to belong. For those reasons I really enjoyed the read although it received very mixed reviews at our gathering.
On the whole I'd say that Breadcrumbs isn't a book to avoid but I don't know that I could say it's worth dropping everything else so that you can get to this one quickly either. It's fun. But it's not incredible.
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