Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler and art by Maira Kalman (2012)

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Interest Level: 15- to 20-something
Why We Broke UpI’ll be honest – opening this book, I was expecting characters in their 20s – the anguished end of a relationship that everyone thought was rock solid, headed for the altar. Instead, Min Green and Ed Slaterton are in high school. She’s a film geek who adores the stars of the golden age of movies, made in the 40s and 20s and 60s. She cites so many films, adding lovely bits of description for each that I began to wonder why I’d never heard of them. (I think they’re all made up titles – I looked up several in vain on IMDB.) He’s a jock, co-captain of the basketball team who has a bad habit of using gay as a pejorative, and saying “no offence” when he says something offensive. Their relationship has ended, and Min is returning every memento of their relationship in a box, along with a letter in which she recounts why they broke up, item by item. Each chapter opens with an illustration of the item, and the story behind it. A cookbook, a movie ticket, a torn poster, ripped condom wrappers. Handler (the author behind Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events!) and Kalman have created a lovely story of a first love doomed by painful mismatching. We know the ending from the outset, but reading Min’s letter, written in an almost adult voice, is like watching a slow-motion train wreck. You know from the start it will end badly, but the emotion of the attraction is so beautifully rendered you can’t help but enjoy every minute, even when it starts to derail. And when it does, the pain in Min’s voice is palpable – her stream of consciousness rant articulating why she is not different at all is heartbreaking. I loved this girl, her determination, her wholehearted ability to love, her childish pretense that a woman in the audience was a faded film star, and her shame that she’d deserted long-time friends for a sham boyfriend. I hope she’s doing better.
I’ll be interested to find out if teens like it as much as I do. I suspect the story is better enjoyed if you’ve been through some breakups, and benefits even further from not a little distance.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10798418-why-we-broke-up

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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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