Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn’t help it – Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn’t fit anywhere else.
And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it’s never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack’s heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it’s up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she’s read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn’t the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.
I started my storytelling in my head when I was nine. It all began with pokemon. I would stare the Ultimate Pokemon Guide handbook for hours on end and make up fights and scenes. My copy of the book is so beat up now because I would take it with me everywhere… Or I would crash on the couch and my brother would come along and ask, “What are you doing?”
What typically ensued was “thinking about what?”
Soon after I started my first story, I stopped making up scenes in my head and I felt completely empty inside whenever I wasn’t writing because I felt like I had lost the ability to be happy in that world. It’s kind of hard to explain… Anyway, these were the memories that came flooding back when I read about Hazel and Jack’s difficulties and then making up fantasy worlds in their head to escape from reality. I was really happy with this book initially because of that, all that bittersweet nostalgia making me smile.
When I first heard about this book, my friend decided that leaving out the parts about the snow queen and Hazel going after Jack was fine, so I ended up thinking that this book was going to be some sort of slice-of-life, boys growing apart from their friends who are girls because they want to be cool in the eyes of other guys. Because seriously, I think I have a very limited number on how many more of those I can take.
Initially, the glossy front cover was what drew me back into the book. Now, I can’t stand the sight of the front cover. It just annoys me for some reason, but when I see it in the library–all shiny and pretty, I have to pick the book up and read the synopsis again even though I’ve read the book already.
It’s not just that though, (thank God), but I thought the story dragged just a little bit as Hazel was trying to figure out Jack’s disappearance and whatnot. There were a few drags in this story that made me almost not want to read this story, but I eventually got through the whole story. And I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought it would. Sure, I thought the ending was rushed and yes, anticlimactic, but overall, the book was good.
Throughout this story, I loved how Hazel fought her inner demons and moved past that–really growing as a character. This is a bittersweet novel about friendship, what it means to grow up and being a kid. The constant references to other books were impressive and fun, but I felt that some of them took away from the story because they were so frequent. Eventually, just because I had so many small problems with this book, I bumped it down to 3 stars, but I feel that that is just me. I think that middle-grade readers will genuinely enjoy this book–girls, not so much boys–and Anne Ursu did a great job re-telling this tale. I thought Hazel and Jack were both great characters that I cared about and impressed me.
pg count for the hardback: 312