I had read about The Real Boy before it even hit bookstores and I was intrigued, especially by the cover art. I read this article about how the cover evolved and I knew I had to read it right away. When I went to purchase it, I also ended up buying another book by Anne Ursu, Breadcrumbs, and I actually ended up reading that one first.
Breadcrumbs is twist on the fairy tale story of the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, in which a boy is hit with a shard of glass from a terrible, magical mirror that makes everything he sees look ugly and hideous. Breadcrumbs takes place in a modern setting, with two best friends, Hazel and Jack as neighbors and best friends. Jack is the mirror’s victim in this version, and he suddenly stops hanging out with Hazel at home and at school. Hazel’s mother tries to explain that perhaps they have just reached an age where boys and girls don’t play together anymore and relationships tend to be awkward, but Hazel knows that there is something else wrong. When Jack vanishes into the woods, she decides to go after him because she has read too many books to let Jack’s strange disappearance go without investigation. Hazel enters into a new world, marked by a clearing that features a ticking clock, and embarks on a classic journey to find and free Jack. This world is wholly magical and wonderful to read, and I loved how Hazel knows how to negotiate through this world, something that imaginative kids do quite naturally. Of course her quest is to free Jack from the Snow Queen, but will that be enough? This is a powerful story about growing up and I highly recommend it.
Then I read The Real Boy, and I will be honest and tell you that it took me much longer to finish than I had anticipated. It is also a story about magic, but I had to work a lot harder at this one. Oscar is the main character, working for one of the land’s last magicians. He has a gift for working with plants and herbs, but he is very aware of how different he is from the other people in his town, preferring to work behind the scenes and befriending a score of cats who live in the workshop. At one time, the land was seething with magic, but it seems to be dwindling and the children of the city are becoming ill. When the magician’s apprentice is mysteriously (and gruesomely) killed, and other awful things happen, Oscar and his very kind and patient friend Callie begin to search for the truth. There were a couple of gasp-out-loud moments as I read this story, as it has a very twisty plot. It is also beautifully written, as is Breadcrumbs. I found this magical world to be much more chaotic though, and it left me feeling unsettled at the end. The magic felt ominous, or maybe I was supposed to experience Oscar’s point of view of not fully fitting in with the world around him. (In that case, it worked!) The story I really wanted to know more about was the history that Oscar and Callie spent so much time researching. Perhaps that tale will show up as a prequel one day!
Naturally read these books if you like magic and fairy tales and friendship. Read Breadcrumbs for sure if you’ve ever grown apart from a best friend because Ursu absolutely nails what that particular sense of loneliness feels like, and then you can read it and not feel so alone. And that, kids, is why we read. Enjoy!
Breadcrumbs has an AR level of 4.8 and is worth 9 points. The Real Boy has an AR level of 4.9 and is worth 10 points.