Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (pen name Lemony Snicket) is getting lots of buzz this awards season, and rightly so.
The protagonist, Min Green, writes a stream-of-consciousness “letter” to Ed Slaterton, her ex, telling him all of the reasons she thinks they broke up. As the book opens, she is on her way to his house to drop a box on his doorstep containing all of the flotsam and jetsam she associates with important moments in their relationship. The letter, addressed directly to Ed, discusses each item in the box, in the order she got it, and how the item and the moment contributed to the end of their relationship.
Why We Broke Up is constructed of beautiful, high-gloss, heavy paper. Maira Kolman’s drawings add depth and a visual element to each aspect of the story.
Min is “different” from Ed. He is handsome, popular, and the co-captain of the basketball team. He is attracted to Min because she is “different” from all of the other girls he has had relationships with. She is smart, loves old films, and is good at witty verbal repartee. Their friends are surprised at the quickness and intensity of their relationship, and predict that it won’t last because of their differences. Both characters are complex and interesting. They have strengths and weaknesses, and qualities that the reader both admires and dislikes about them. We see their attraction, believe in it, and root for them to make it work as Min retells their story, even though we know what the outcome will be. Handler does a nice job of not choosing sides until the end. The way in which Handler brings the final hatchet down on the relationship is unexpected and terrific! This is definitely a character-driven piece that will probably appeal most to teenage girls.
In terms of writing, Min’s first person voice is strong. There are stream-of-consciousness passages here that are brilliant, such as the sequence at the end of the book when she tells Ed all of the ways in which she is not different. The need to be “normal,” yet feel special and unique, is a part of all of us—an irony that many of us deal with throughout our lives. This is just one of the many ways in which teens will be able to relate to Why We Broke Up. There is much here that will inspire deep thought and conversation: what friendship is, how (even when we desire to break free) those around us will often push us back into what is “normal,” what discovering our sexuality is about, and how relationships are filled with give and take.
A really unique and interesting read. Highly recommended.
—Terri Evans, high school media specialist
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