Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Review: 'Why We Broke Up' by Daniel Handler, Art by Maira Kalman

I shook my head, shoveling my anger into a shallow grave
 waiting to be dug up in some plot twist.

Min Green is “arty” – but don’t let her hear you say so. She loves a good cup of coffee, obscure old movies, and themed parties.  Ed Slaterton is a math-loving jock, too popular for his own good. Against all odds, they fall into a relationship that forces them to step outside their comfort zones. When they break up, as seems inevitable for two people with nothing in common, Min packs a box of all the things Ed gave her (and some she took) and writes him a letter chronicling how each item contributed to the demise of their relationship. This book is that letter, in all its stream-of-consciousness, heart wrenching glory.

Why We Broke Up is one of the most intriguing realistic fiction books I’ve read in a long while. It was one of those rare novels where I wanted to speed through to see how all the pieces fit together, yet slowly savor each word, phrase and illustration. It was a glorious read, not only for the epistolary format (a stylistic choice that makes me giddy), but for the sheer emotion it held. Handler has, somehow, perfectly encapsulated the range of emotions a teenage girl feels during the inception, growth and demise of first love.

What really makes this novel work, what pushes it that notch above similar titles, is Min’s unique voice. Reading the meandering, dreamy, slightly pretentious, grammar-defying sentences, I could actually picture Min sitting at a beat up table in her favorite coffee shop, box in front of her, scribbling away at her letter and letting go of Ed and all of the emotions bound up in him. The writing style, full of half-formed sentences and paragraph-long asides, took some getting used to, but it worked. It felt truthful, like I was reading a letter written in the heat of anger, not something calculated and revised.

Each chapter is bracketed by a full-color illustration of an item in the box – everything from bottle caps to ticket stubs, a folded note with a message inside to a piece of clothing. These illustrations are the perfect final touch in the story of Min and Ed’s relationship.  Why We Broke Up certainly isn’t the book for everyone, but I found it utterly charming. An engrossing read that brings up memories of first love and teenage angst.

Book Source: My local library
Reviewed by: Kimberly

Recommended Ages: 16+ for swearing, frank discussion of sexual situations, underage drinking, pretentious writing

Recommended for Readers of:
North of Beautiful
by Justina Chen
This Lullaby
Sarah Dessen
Love & Leftovers
Sarah Tregay
I Heart You,
You Haunt Me
Lisa Schroeder