Book Review: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Voting has now closed on the Inky Awards and the winners will be announced next week. BUT we still have a few of our shortlisted titles to go through!

Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up. Min has written a letter explaining why. She’s delivering it with a box that’s full of the debris of their relationship: two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, Ed’s protractor, some sugar they stole, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings and the rest of it. Each item is illustrated and accounted for; each memory played out until the heartbreaking end. Min will dump the box on Ed’s porch – but it is Ed who is being dumped. This is the story of why they broke up.

I knew the minute I saw Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up book trailer that I wanted to read this book. I remember my high school days as a constant merry-go round of dating and breaking-up. I was struck by Handler’s book because, while the YA world will often write a ‘dating’ book (there might be a break-up or two, but this is the land of happily-ever-after where things, or people, don’t stay broken), where are all the break-up books? Breaking up, be it with your boyfriend or your best friend (those were the worst, weren’t they?) is a constant during adolescence. So why aren’t there more ‘Why We Broke Up’ type books?

There’s so much that feels out of your control as a teenager. Being in a relationship is one of the most out of control situations a teen will find themselves in. To contrarily trust and distrust someone in such equal measure, sometimes at once; to be turned on by them; turned off by them; to hate the way they wear their pants half way down their underwear; and to love the way they play guitar (badly). Handler captures it all for us. Every embarrassing, heart-wrenching, horrible and beautiful moment of what it is to be a teenager in love, and in hate. To have your first time. To break for the first time. Handler lets it all unfolding slowly, from the first moment Ed and Min connect through to the very end. At every moment we are privy to the relationship as Min felt it. A biased perspective, no doubt, but there is such raw honest in Min’s break-up letter that you can’t help but be on Min’s side (team Min!).

The scene from page 335 onwards is a brilliant piece of high school drama and teen angst. For me it spoke so truly to what it feels to be a teenager. It was a constant stream of narrative that spoke to the ‘teenage’ me, filled with selfish diatribe and self-loathing:

I like movies, everyone knows I do – I love them – but I will never be in charge of one because my ideas are stupid and wrong in my head. There’s nothing different about that, nothing fascinating, interesting, worth looking at. I have bad hair and stupid eyes. I have a body that’s nothing. I’m too fat and my mouth is idiotic ugly. I talk like a moron, I can’t say one thing to talk to people that makes them like me, I just babble and sputter like a drinking fountain broken.

Why We Broke Up, despite it’s accuracy at morose teenage emotions and the cataloging of THE break-up to end all break-ups, is a very funny novel. At times I forgot I was reading a ‘sad’ story – and it is a terribly, terribly sad story about two people who loved each other and now don’t, only they can’t forget – because of Min’s witty inner monologue and the dialogue provided by the supporting cast (everyone needs a hilarious one-liner best friend, right?).

I would recommend for older teens 15+, as there is some foul language and adult themes (sex).

Daniel Handler has created The Why We Broke Up Project, which reads a little like the a break-up genre of Postsecret. A great place for teens, who will readily connect with all the reasons and whys of breaking up.

The break-ups range from the sad:

We broke up because you kept telling me that I didn’t love you, and eventually it became true.

to the funny:

We broke up because you never read The Series of Unfortunate Events. Inadequacy at it’s finest.

to the weird:

She used to hide strawberry candy in her pockets, without the packing. One day, I put my hand in her jacket’s pocket, and a bubble gum stuck in my finger, and that’s why we broke up.

For previous reviews in the Inky Shortlisted series: The Fault in our StarsBZRKA Monster CallsDaughter of Smoke and BoneAct of FaithThe Reluctant HallelujahQueen of the Night, and Night Beach.

 

 

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