Review Blog

Feb 14 2012

Why we broke up by Daniel Handler

cover image

Ill. Maira Kalman. Egmont, 2012. ISBN 9781742970974.
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. 2012 Printz Honor book. In a long 354-page letter, Min writes to Ed, telling him the truth about why they broke up. She is also giving him a box full of objects related to reasons that they broke up. There are 'two bottle caps, a movie ticket from Greta in the wild, a note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and the rest of it.' (Inside cover). Each item will be used to illustrate aspects of their heartbreaking romance and then the box will be dumped on Ed's doorstep.
I loved this book. It was not one that I could read in one sitting. I found myself reading a section or two, relating to the occasion that was being described, often in reference to a film that Min loves, and thinking about why the romance was breaking up. It was full of teenage angst and often I felt as if I wanted to shake Min and tell her to listen to what her friends could tell her about Ed. However Ed, co-captain of the basketball team and dream boy for most of the girls in the school, shines brightly. When he tells Min she is different and is prepared to go along to the films she loves and try different things, she is convinced they are in love. Min's descriptions of Ed in the early stages of the romance show him to be an amiable jock, who has a real flair for Maths. I found myself liking him and wondering why Min couldn't see that their friends and interests were so different that it would be virtually impossible for a relationship to be sustained without both changing substantially. However, the themes in Why we broke up encompass more than the need for common interests for a relationship to last. Handler looks at the importance of friendship, truthfulness, keeping intimate things private and fidelity; all things that teens need to know about relationships.
I also loved the descriptions of Min's friends, especially Al, her best friend, who loved films, theatre productions and drinking coffee. They were a group of people who were intelligent and well rounded. For many teens they would provide an excellent vindication that you don't have to go along with the popular sport-loving crowd.
Handler manages the voice of Min really well and the events were so well described I felt they were real. I was left wondering if either he or one of his friends at school had experienced a similar break up. The illustrations by Maira Kalman broke up each segment of the story and I found myself going back to them to think about their relationship to what had happened. They certainly added to the book's appeal.
This is a tour de force from the author who also writes as Lemony Snicket.
Pat Pledger

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