As a rule, even though I probably do it too much myself, I think comparing two books that are literally similar tends to do neither book any favors. So, unless you’re trying to crush something despicable in one of the books, pitting one against another doesn’t make that much sense to me. Thoughtless comparisons have ruined stories for me because sometimes something beautiful in a story is so easy to crush by association with something blunt in another. All of this preface is a warning because I am going to compare this book to another book, and it makes me nervous. This book is delicate and beautiful and inspiring, and the book I’m going to compare it to is blunt and awkward and stifling. What I want to say is that I think Breadcrumbs
is in many ways reaction to this weirdly true and simultaneously deeply false culture of that odd book He’s Just Not That Into You. I don’t think I can talk about this without spoilers, so consider yourself generally warned.Breadcrumbs
is a story of a little girl, Hazel, who is on the verge of growing up, and must save her best friend, Jack, from magic that poisons and freezes Jack’s heart and turns him against Hazel. Even though grownups around her tell Hazel that Jack is just not that into her, that she should just let him go if he’s not nice to her, Hazel knows Jack and she knows something wrong is going on. More than that, she knows she can be a warrior and save Jack from the loneliness and isolation of this evil magic. So, in a lot of ways, it is delicate to talk about this book because I think if you’re a girl, and you’re Hazel, you could be completely correct and brave and self-aware – or you could be a crazy person who keys cars when boys break up with you.
There is that new documentary, Miss Representation
, which I haven’t seen yet. The trailer makes it look amazing, though. It seems like it is mostly about the representation of women and girls in the media and how that contributes to us not participating in society. One of the trailer’s statistics, which has stuck with me and made me really sad over the past few weeks, is that (and I might get the ages slightly wrong here) an equal number of girls and boys under age 9 say that they want to be President when they grow up. Then, once you get to around age 15, almost no girls say that anymore. How much does that suck? It says to me that once girls reach adolescence, we realize that the world was not made for us, it was made for boys.
And I think that is one of the disturbing things about the book He’s Just Not That Into You. The underlying assumption (and even, in many ways, the explicit message) of the book is that girls are and should be insatiably driven to find a steady relationship with a boy, any boy, no matter who he is, but boys must be struck by lightning to find That Special Girl. So, a girl is a crazy person if she is patient with a guy who doesn’t want to impregnate her within the first five minutes of meeting her. (Underlying assumption being that girls should be super excited about that
guy.) But, girls are just waiting around at girl factories for guys to magically find the right one, and the chosen girl will be so grateful
just to be picked. The world was not made for girls: girls are just one accessory in a world made for boys. On the other hand, I do know at least one girl who is a crazy person and more likely than not to burn down a guy’s house if he’s not into her, so for that girl I think there might be a place for the creepy not-into-you message. For the rest of us, I think a more pertinent message would be, “What are you getting out of this?”
As a sidebar, I think the expectation that girls should be continually dying for a relationship, aside from being perpetuated in culture, comes from ye olden days (and ye present days) when women were not able to make money or own property and need/ed relationships for survival.
Anyway, the way Breadcrumbs
deals with this is really pretty. Hazel hears all of these messages, but then she listens to her own heart instead and thinks of what she knows of her friend Jack and she believes that. Much of the book, Hazel’s encounters with a world of fairy tales, seems symbolic or even coded as a girl’s journey to trusting her own evaluation of the world and learning to be braver, and thereby more compassionate, from those lessons. I really like that, and it was so fun to picture a little girl reading the book and being scared and inspired with Hazel and the different versions of love she encounters.
But, there is still a future looming over Hazel that made me ambivalent. Hazel is 9 or 10 in the book, and I saw the Miss Representation
trailer while I was in the middle of Breadcrumbs
. The white witch warns Hazel in the end that someday Jack will grow up and actually reject her, and she won’t always be able to save their relationship. That’s not exactly what she says, but it is what I heard from her message. It made me think of how, when girls are children, they still want to be President, but adolescence takes that away from them: it becomes a boy's job to reject or accept a girl. Will Hazel not be able to save Jack once he is older and rejects her? She will have to just lose her friend and the most supportive person in her life then? Is it only little girls who can be warriors, and then when we grow up the world stops being ours and we are crazy people if we don’t just let our friends walk away from us? On the one hand I loved
that the white witch told Hazel that, and that Hazel meditated on it as the book closed, and on the other hand, I hated
it. I loved it because it is true: Jack probably will reject her again in the future, and when that happens, will it be worth it to Hazel to go after him again? Maybe not. But I also hated it because it seemed to anticipate that it should not be worth it to Hazel when she grew up.
I don’t know, maybe I have had too much time to dwell on this from not wanting to post a review because I have felt weirdly vulnerable lately and because my thoughts on this book say things about me that make me uncomfortable in my skin. I have never seen a romantic relationship, my own or anyone else’s, that I thought was worth going through what Hazel went through in this book. I’m super sorry, relationship people, because I do love you, and maybe when some dude is struck by lightning in a non-creepy way about me, I will feel differently, but I have never seen a romantic relationship that I, personally, envy. But, I have had plenty of friendships, as a child and as an adult, that I think are worth what Hazel did. And also not. I guess I like that is open ended whether Hazel would do it again, when, as I think the book anticipates, she and Jack fall in love. But it also leaves me with an unsettled feeling that there is no real answer about whether it is objectively worth it to go through all of the forgiveness and rebuilding it takes to remind a friend that they love you and should be nice to you. Life is hard, kids.
So, ultimately, I guess I like that Hazel tells the just-not-into-you people to shove it because their message does not apply to her friendship with Jack. And, I also feel a little tragically about how that message may or may not apply to her in the future – nobody knows. I guess, for Hazel’s sake, I always hope that the Jacks will be worth the sacrifices. Part of the sad thing about the just-not-into-you message is that it is universal enough for that message to become a best-selling book that friends think a romantic-interest dude is not a nice enough person to be worth a girl’s energy. What is up with that?
It also made me think of this beautiful dance