The Snow Queen is one of my favourite fairytales. It is the one I would love to rework, if reworking fairytales was one of my writerly strengths (it’s not). It has everything a girl could want- evil queen, friendship, strong heroine, weird and wonderful kingdom, etc. Anne Ursu, the author of The Cronus Chronicles (aka Percy Jackson for girls) one of our bestselling and favourite fantasy series at the former The Flying Dragon Bookshop, has revisited this classic story.
Ursu spends a lot of time setting the scene at home before Hazel leaves for the other world. Hazel is unhappy. Her father has recently left, she is at a new school where no one appreciates her, her best friend Jack is spending more time with the boys than with her, there is no money for her to take dance, and she can’t seem to connect with her mother. Hazel is spirited and her frustration comes out in the form of a hot temper, one that gets her in a lot of trouble. When Jack is injured in a snowball fight, Hazel is the only one who seems to notice that something is really wrong. It isn’t until he disappears completely that Hazel realizes she needs to take matters into her own hands.
The other world is suitably creepy. It is here, in the other world, that Ursu acknowledges the dark side of traditional fairytales and does so with great atmosphere and foreboding. It is never wholly enticing to Hazel and she is given plenty of reasons to steer clear (girls turned into flowers, never-ending winter, red shoes that cause the wearer to dance til her death,etc). The whole time she is looking for Jack the reader desperately wants her to find him and get out as quickly as possible.
I found the first section long, and not all readers will have the patience to read through the gritty stuff before finally getting to the fantasy world, especially if they are regular fantasy readers. Breadcrumbs, despite being a fantasy novel, reads more like contemporary middle grade. The emphasis is not the other world and magic but Hazel’s issues in the real world. Her journey through the other world in order to reach Jack feels more like allegory than a typical middle grade adventure. It has a dream-like quality, almost as if we are living inside Hazel’s brain, watching as she confronts her inner conflicts (wanting to dance at all costs, wanting to belong to someone, not wanting to grow up, etc).
Breadcrumbs is receiving starred reviews and praise from all corners of the kid’s lit world. It is one of those books that exposes the myth of happily ever after without leaving the reader distraught or bereaved. It is very much about living through disappointment and discovering hope in unexpected places. A complex and sensitive read for thoughtful readers, 11+. Fans of The Cronus Chronicles, Liesl & Po, East, and The Silver Donkey will love languishing in Ursu’s wonderful language.
Breadcrumbs is available now in hard cover from Walden Pond Press, an imprint of Harper Collins.