Author: Anne Ursu
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.
This is one of those books that I should have loved far more than I actually did. The writing is beautiful, the author is perfectly able to evoke a feeling of loneliness and desperation, and there are so many quotable passages that I lost track of them all.
While reading (listening) to the story, I was so distracted by the overwrought emotions and dark tone of the whole story that I kept waiting for something to happen. Right from the blurb, any reader knows that Hazel and Jack's friendship is going to be tested and that some fairy tale elements are going to appear at some point. Yet it takes about half the book for that to actually happen and when it does, it's almost a let-down.
The fairy tale elements are artfully woven into the story and the modernization of Andersen's "The Snow Queen" is deftly handled. In this terrifying world of magic and shapeshifters, there are people from our world who lost their way and, for various reasons, cannot find their way back to a mundane existence. These lost souls serve as both guides and obstacles in Hazel's quest to find her friend, all of them forming some sort of warning about making the wrong choices in this dangerous world.
I don't know what I was expecting at the end, but the climax and resolution felt hurried and incomplete. It wasn't unsatisfying, but I'm not sure that I can say it's exactly satisfying, either.
The audiobook narrator did a perfect job of setting a morose tone throughout, conveying the despair and isolation that Hazel feels. While he's a good narrator, I can say that there is only so much despair and desperation I can stand before I just wanted the book to be over.
Incredibly quotable, beautifully written, and not-quite-fulfilling. The dark overtones might be too much for young readers and the subject might be too young for adults.
3 out of 5 stars.