Review – Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler


Book Cover Image: Why We Broke Up by Daniel HandlerTitle: Why We Broke Up
Author: Daniel Handler
ISBN: 9780316127257
No. of Pages: 354
Genre: Young Adult

“Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.”

Thoughts: Every relationship comes with its own baggage, not just the emotional kind but also the very physical kind. This baggage includes ticket stubs from the first date, flower petals from a memorable bouquet, mixed tapes/CDs/playlists made by one’s paramour to become the soundtrack of the relationship, pictures, notes, and so on. Getting rid of this baggage can be an important ritual for moving on once the relationship ends. The ending of relationships and the subsequent removal of physical baggage is essentially a rite of passage as she or he comes to grips with the end of what was and moves forward to what can be. Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up is a quirky, clever, and emotional walkthrough of this important and unavoidable rite.

Min Green thinks of a creative and therapeutic method of getting rid of her baggage. Her plan is to leave it at the door of her ex-boyfriend’s house. Not only that, but she also writes letters explaining each one of the items in her baggage, in this case a box, why she kept the item and why it inevitably led to their break-up. Such is the tale of Why We Broke Up. Even though the novel takes place after the break-up, Min’s naiveté and belief that theirs is a love that just might last creeps through the elements of pain and anger. The reader knows how the story is going to end, and yet the unfolding of Min and Ed’s story is enchanting in its hopefulness.

Why We Broke Up was definitely written with a younger audience in mind. Older readers will question Min’s faith in Ed when she keeps mentioning how much of a player he is. They will question just how quickly and deeply someone can fall in love in six short weeks. Better yet, they will groan over Min’s more melodramatic moments and remember similar teen angst movies from the 80s, like Some Kind of Wonderful. This only increases the feeling of relief in older readers of being wiser when it comes to relationships. Min’s is truly a tale for the young.

That does not mean that older readers will not enjoy the novel. Maira Kalman’s illustrations of each of Min’s treasures are what make Why We Broke Up go from overemotional teen torment to charming and enjoyable novel for all ages. While enjoying Min’s very eclectic collection, readers of any age cannot help but bring forth memories of their own mementoes of relationships past. These illustrations add power and realism to Min’s tale, making the awful truth of their break-up, when it is finally revealed, that much more agonizing.

Min Green is a heroine that gets under the reader’s skin. Her experiences of many of love’s big firsts, her honesty about these experiences, and her emotional turmoil as the letters progress are incredibly realistic, making the reader feel as if s/he should not be reading these very personal letters. The power of Why We Broke Up lies in its ability to make the reader feel young again, if not part of the target teen audience, or provide reassurance that one is not alone in past relationship pain, if one is part of the target demographic.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association trade show for my advanced copy.


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10 Responses to Review – Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
  1. Lisa
    March 13, 2012 | 9:30 PM

    Am I mistaken or is Daniel Handler also Lemony Snicket? Or perhaps I just know that name from something else. Either way, this sounds like a fun one!
    My recent post The Mapping of Love and Death: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear

  2. Jenners
    March 14, 2012 | 12:59 AM

    I had the "old person" reaction to this book!! But I did think it would speak to a younger person … or be a good reminder to an older person who needs to remember what it is like at that (horrible horrible) age!
    My recent post A Little Game of Tag Chicken

  3. Carrie K.
    March 14, 2012 | 2:14 AM

    I've been eyeballing this one simply because I'd like to read something by him that wasn't Lemony Snicket – I didn't care for that series. Now your review has me adding it to my to-read list!
    My recent post Audiobook Review: The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

  4. Michelle
    March 18, 2012 | 8:13 PM

    You are exactly correct – it is Lemony Snicket! The drawings make it fun. The story itself is bittersweet.

  5. Michelle
    March 18, 2012 | 8:14 PM

    Exactly. I had the "old person" reaction too. You could see the big reveal coming a mile away. I confess I enjoyed the illustrations almost more than the novel itself because I really do not want to be reminded of that age. LOL!

  6. Michelle
    March 18, 2012 | 8:15 PM

    Glad I could help! The illustrations are just SO fun, even if the story itself is somewhat depressing.

  7. Stephanie @ RIASS
    June 26, 2012 | 2:38 AM

    I'm definitely an oldie, but I can definitely believe that "head over heels" in love feeling. It sounds silly and over-the-top, but I think we've all been through it. In fact, I had that "spark" the moment I met my husband, so I can't exactly pooh-pooh love at first sight, no matter how ridiculous it sounds!
    My recent post Book Review: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman

  8. Michelle
    July 31, 2012 | 3:36 AM

    Exactly! I think that's what makes it so special for adult readers.

  9. Mollie
    January 19, 2013 | 6:29 PM

    I'm sorry, but what was Ed's reaction to Min finding out. ''She lives near''. Oh well, that makes it all okay then!!! I thought he loved her more than that. I am not happy. I would have liked to see Ed'd reaction to reading the letter and stuff because Min thinks he will be lying heartbroken on his bed so I am intrugued. But I hope he is. And, yes I think Min was way too trusting.

  10. Michelle
    January 19, 2013 | 11:09 PM

    Mollie – I'm not certain Ed will be heartbroken at all. I would say his reactions were not really meant to be part of the story, as this is more therapy for Min to recover from her broken heart.

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