Posts Tagged ‘Maira Kalman’

Why We Broke Up

by Daniel Handler; illustrated by Maira Kalman

Little, Brown and Company, 2011

Printz Honor Book (2012)

Source: public library

Read it because . . . I love Daniel Handler as Lemony Snicket and I wanted to see if I would love Daniel Handler as Daniel Handler


Note: I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was a bit disappointed by how this book ended. While I will talk about the ending in this review, have no fear – I will speak of it in the vaguest terms possible. If you still don’t want to know anything about the ending, though, you probably shouldn’t read this.

Why We Broke Up is a letter from Min to her ex-boyfriend Ed explaining just that: why they broke up. Accompanying the letter is a box of mementos from their relationship, and it is through Min’s explanation of each souvenir that the story of their relationship, from beginning to end, is told. Hindsight, they say, is 20/20, and as Min relates the stories behind the items she recognizes all the little flaws in the relationship that led to the break-up. She understands, too – with a clarity and wisdom beyond her years – why she and Ed stayed together in spite of the warning signs.

This book had me at “Dear Ed.” I love epistolary novels, so I was thrilled to pieces when I discovered that this entire novel is one long letter. I love it, too, when, rather than dump a ton of information in the first chapter, an author reveals their characters’ backstories bit by bit. (Wait, didn’t I just say the same thing a week ago in regards to Love Medicine? Hmm, I must really like this particular literary technique.) This novel is one long reveal that leads to the big reveal: why, precisely, Min and Ed broke up. Even as Min outlines all the little reasons why they broke up, it’s clear that there was some cataclysmic event that brought the relationship to a screeching halt. (It brought my relationship with the novel to a screeching halt, too, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

But above all, what I liked most about this novel is that, unlike many YA novels, it presents the idea that a relationship needs more than passion and love to survive. Ed and Min have very different personalities, they run in completely separate social circles, and they have few overlapping interests, hobbies, and core values. On the other hand, they’re strongly attracted to one another and genuinely care about the other person. When Ed tells Min that he loves her, I believe him (as much as I believe any teenage boy). But love and passion aren’t enough. I know all the romantics in the world are about to shoot me, but hold up! I’m not saying they’re not important, I’m not saying they shouldn’t be at the heart of every relationship. I’m saying there has to be more there if a relationship is going to survive.

At one point in her letter Min writes,

Ed, it was everything, those nights on the phone, everything we said until late became later and then later and very late and finally to go to bed with my ear warm and worn and red from holding the phone close close close so as not to miss a word of what it was, because who cared how tired I was in the humdrum slave drive of our days without each other. I’d ruin any day, all my days, for those long nights with you, and I did. But that’s why right there it was doomed. We couldn’t only have the magic nights buzzing through the wires. We had to have the days, too, the bright impatient days spoiling everything with their unavoidable schedules, their mandatory times that don’t overlap, their loyal friends who don’t get along, the unforgiven travesties torn from the wall no matter what promises are uttered past midnight, and that’s why we broke up. (85-86)

Why We Broke Up, this is why you and I broke up: because the cataclysmic event that ended Min and Ed’s relationship was such a clichéd ending I wanted to throw the book against a wall. I felt like it negated nearly everything Min said for the first 300 pages of the book. Part of it wasn’t a cliché, (the part alluded to in the above quote), and if you had just stuck with that you and I would still be together. (Well, except for the whole Al thing. I saw that coming a mile away.)

Did anyone have a different reaction to the book?

Other reviews: The Bluestocking Society, Books With Bite, Jenny’s Books, A Novel Source, YA Book Nerd

Did you write a review?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

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