Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler art by Maira Kalman

Min Green and Ed Slaterton broke up.  Now Min is returning to Ed a box filled with things she collected over the course of their two months together.  And she's writing him a letter explaining exactly why they broke up.

Before I started this, I thought it was an adult book, because the concept just seemed like it was.  I was totally taken aback when I realized the characters were in high school.  But it turned out I was right.  It is an adult book, even though it revolves around teenage characters.  I think some teenagers would still like it, but definitely the appeal is going to be with an older, more mature, perhaps more jaded and cynical crowd.  Not that I think this book was jaded and cynical.  It totally wasn't at all.  What I mean is this is a portrayal of a real relationship.  No supernatural love-bond kind of thing.  And the relationship ends, as relationships often do.  That's all I mean. 

Min and her friends are film nerds.  Not movie nerds, film nerds.  Old films, films you've never heard off.  As Min writes her letter to Ed (her 354 page letter to Ed), everything gets compared to some film she and her friends have seen, but that Ed certainly hasn't.  I wasn't sure if they were real movies or not, as I know nothing about films, but it doesn't seem like they are.  I tried looking a few of them up.  They all have awesome titles, however, I wish they were real.  This is a very important aspect of Min.  Throughout the book, Ed and Ed's friend try to say what's "different" about Min.  They usually come up with "arty," which isn't really accurate, but there's no denying she's "different" then the girls Ed usually dates.  Ed is the co-captain of the basketball team.  He's popular and has had a lot of girlfriends and his girlfriends have all been popular girls.  Min is not part of that crowd, and she doesn't fit in with them really well.  They all think she's a little weird. 

Each chapter starts with an illustration of something that is in the box.  The ARC I had didn't have a lot of the pictures, but full color illustrations are promised.  I'm looking forward to getting to see all the pictures.

The stories that Min tells about each item take us through Min and Ed's whole relationship, from when they met at Min's friend Al's Bitter Sixteen party all the way through to the end.  From the very beginning, when they feel a connection when they meet.  To the first date, where they're both really nervous.  To the first kiss, which is amazing and wonderful and this boy is like no other anywhere in the world.  To doing things she swore she'd never do, like ditching friends to spend time with her boyfriend (you know you do it) to watching said boyfriend practice basketball.  To having him meet her friends and it going horribly, to cutting off friends because they don't understand what's so great about him.  To seeing little things she doesn't like, but it doesn't matter because they love each other.  To finding out that maybe her boyfriend tells his friends things that he shouldn't, but forgiving because they love each other and he's good to her.  To finally the very end, and she's hurt and sad and angry and dammit, why didn't she listen to your friends?

Sound familiar?

Min's voice is very stream of consciousness.  Her sentences run together as she remembers and wonders and works out what happened.  The character's voices all sound very similar, but I wasn't bothered by this as it was all being filtered through Min's head.  Also, the characters didn't sound very much like teenagers.  I know this is supposed to be Min, at 16, writing this and giving stuff back to Ed, but despite that, I felt like it was Min looking back on something that had happened a while ago with a maturity she didn't have then.  It just had that feel about it, a mature reflection.  And maybe that's a fault of the book, that it didn't actually sound like a teenager, but again, I don't think it was written for a teenager.  I was OK with Mind's voice being that way.

In case you can't tell, I enjoyed this very much.  I was expecting too, as it' s Daniel Handler, although I haven't read any of his other adult work and didn't really know what to expect.  At first, I wasn't sure if I liked it, but it won me over.  So I definitely recommend for you, and possible your older students too.

Why We Broke Up will be available December 27.


  1. Oh, this sounds so good. SPL doesn't have it in the catalog yet, but hopefully soon!

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