Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #45: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up begins with the thump of a box dropped on a porch. The box contains the mementos of a relationship and a letter explaining the items and tracing the course of a failed relationship from its tentative beginning to its heart-breaking end. Each chapter opens with a lovely picture, drawn by Maira Kalman, of a memento and a portion of Min’s letter to her ex-boyfriend, Ed. Min, short for Minerva, works her way through the items chronologically, so her explanation of each item also helps us understand her relationship with Ed. She starts with a bottle cap from the dark beer they drank at her friend’s “bitter birthday” party, a party at which popular, athletic Ed was an uninvited an unexpected guest. Although they move in different circles in the rather strictly divided world of high-school society, Ed and Min strike up a conversation that ends with him asking for her number. To her surprise, Ed calls and asks her out, and they share a magical first date at the independent movie theater where movie-obsessed Min spends a great deal of time. After the film, they spot an old woman they suspect is the lead actress from the film they just watched, and they surreptitiously follow her around the city trying to determine whether or not she really is who they think she is. After that first night, though, their differences begin to emerge as they struggle to balance their very different lives. Min starts hanging out at basketball practice to watch Ed after school instead of going to the coffee shop with her best friend. Ed tries to spend time with Min’s friends, but he clearly doesn’t fit in with them. No one thinks they can make the relationship work, which makes Ed and Min all the more determined to find a way to stay together. Of course, as we know from the title, it doesn’t work in the end, but despite the fact that the outcome is a foregone conclusion, I was completely engrossed in it. Handler does a wonderful job of capturing what it’s like to be a girl in love, and Kalman’s illustrations add a lot to the story. It’s a story that is unique and yet feels familiar because, regardless of the particulars, nearly all of us have felt the heartbreak of a first love gone wrong. It’s so familiar that there’s now a website dedicated to the novel where you can write your own break-up story. Handler’s more famous for the Lemony Snicket novels for kids, but here he proves he’s equally adept at young adult literature as well.