Why We Broke Up – Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman
Min Green and Ed Slaterton have broken up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. A movie ticket from their first date, a comb from the motel room they shared and every other memento collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.
Why We Broke Up is a sincere and moving portrait of first love, first heartbreak and all the firsts in between. Min’s smart, sharp, devastatingly honest voice is one of the most memorable in contemporary young adult literature.
This is the first non-Lemony Snicket book by Daniel Handler that I’ve read (I think I have one of his adult books that I bought for really cheap, but I’m not sure where on my bookshelf it lives and I’ve never read it).
Like reading The Casual Vacancy, you can’t go into this book expecting it to sound like the beloved series from your childhood. It’s nothing like A Series of Unfortunate Events or All The Wrong Questions. I can’t even compare it to another YA book, because I can’t think of anything that deals with the same idea in a similar way.
A couple of people told me they cried through most of this book. I won’t say I cried (I didn’t), but every so often, Min said something that truly felt heartbreaking to me. The one that actually made me tear up a little was right near the beginning:
You know I want to be a director, but you could never truly see the movies in my head and that, Ed, is why we broke up.
Also, the moment near the end when she reveals the real reason why they broke up: that was just three pages of her hating herself for being duped, and it was raw and emotional and I felt a little breathless by the time she was done because I was imagining how hard it would be to say those words out loud.
Ed was a tool. He was awful to her. Yes, sometimes Min seemed a bit clingy; yes, they were really different (but opposites attract, right?); yes, their relationship was intense over such a short time frame. But that still doesn’t mean he had any right to do what he did.
I’ve seen a couple of reviews where people complained about how often Min referred to old movies (all of which were completely made up), but I liked it. I reference music/books/certain TV shows all the time, so I didn’t even register it as being a “thing”. I guess it’s more jarring to read than it is if you heard someone drop a reference in a conversation.
I’m actually surprised I liked it as much as I did, considering it was written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style. That normally drives me crazy, but, since there was proper punctuation, it was bearable. Plus, I’ve always liked the epistolary form.
Overall, it was as quirky as can be expected from Daniel “Lemony Snicket” Handler, and it did not disappoint. It has a gorgeous design and is full of wonderful illustrations, but, dang, these super glossy pages make for a heavy book!