Title: Why We Broke Up
Author: Daniel Handler
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.