Hazel and Jack have been best friends since they were six, playing superhero baseball and making stories together. Now in fifth grade, it’s suddenly weird for a girl and a boy to be best friends. Hazel doesn’t fit in at her new school…except when she’s with Jack. Until one day, Jack stops speaking to her. Her mom tries to convince her that this happens sometimes as people grow up, but Hazel is convinced something’s wrong. Hazel is right; Jack’s heart has been frozen. When he disappears into the woods with a white witch, Hazel goes after him to bring him back. The woods aren’t what they seem, and Jack might not return to who he once was. Hazel has to face not only a different Jack than the one she loves but also change in herself.
Breadcrumbs is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” At first, I thought that’s all this novel would be: a fairytale retelling. Breadcrumbs is so much more. While much of the story has fantastical elements, at the heart is the tale of a boy and a girl who are best friends. This friendship drives the actions of not only the two main characters, but also their classmates who find the friendship weird. Hazel and Jack support each other for who they are regardless of what their peers think. They inspire each other and fit together and their friendship is really a beautiful thing.
Hazel is an amazing heroine. Despite dealing with family trouble at home and bullying from her classmates, she stays true to herself. She doesn’t try to like the things all the other girls like. She knows what interests her, even if those things are considered weird. It’s a truly shattering moment when the only person Hazel feels she fits with suddenly stops talking to her and is just downright mean to her. Hazel becomes really extraordinary when she goes to rescue Jack. She doesn’t hesitate. Having read a lot of fantasy stories, she knows how dangerous the journey will be, but she goes after him anyway. She steadfastly remains on track even when multiple people warn her against facing down the white witch.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of this story is the fact that the white witch isn’t really the villain at all. I won’t spoil the ending, but Hazel’s final confrontation is heart-wrenching. This story isn’t about a fight with evil but about growing up and what it means to hold on or leave someone behind. I loved her whole time in the woods, which are bigger inside than out. She encounters many dangers and tragedies.
Breadcrumbs is middle grade fiction at its finest; complicated relationships, characters with depth, and a dangerous quest of discovery.