Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler Book Review

It has been a while (as I feel I always tend to start a lot of these posts) since I’ve written a review. Maybe I can blame it on the fact I recently graduated from University and have been finding the adult-world a little difficult to work out. Maybe I can blame it on the real reason, which is, I’ve been struggling to read. I’m not sure why, I’m not sure how, but at some point I’ve found it difficult to sit down and really dedicate time to finish a single book. I have so many waiting to be read and reviewed. I can almost hear them calling out to me, ‘Antonia, Antonia, read us, please, we’re good, I promise!’ And yet, I have days where I just end up wasting time slumped over a laptop watching hours of pointless YouTube videos or playing mindless hours of Sims 4 instead of using those golden hours to delve into a good book.

This being said, I couldn’t put this one down. I was reading it during my work breaks, as I waited between scenes in rehearsals, before going to bed. It was monumentally a stunning book to read, and really hit close to home. There’s something delicate about writing about ‘young love.’ It’s either done too cliché or not cliché enough. It either brings painful memories flushing back or is so over-the-top that it has no sense of relatability. I couldn’t find any of these tropes in this book. I thought the balance of the fairytale-like relationship between two young teenagers mixed with the burst of a reality-check at the end, enabled this book to be a thoroughly captivating read.

Also a small nod to the stunning art by Maira Kalman. Every “chapter” was introduced by a piece of art. It added to the filmatic, stylistic vibe that was displayed through the writing and Min’s obsession with cinema. 

For a no-spoiler section (so that if you haven’t read it, you can see if it may be something you are interested in):

Min Green is a young teenager who has just broken up with her boyfriend Ed Slaterton. She is writing him a letter to accompany the box of treasures she saved during memorable occasions in their relationship to explain why they have broken up. Each item is illustrated to recount the time it represents until the box, like Min’s heart, is left on his doorstep.

If you haven’t read the book I’d consider this the moment to leave and pick up a copy of this before coming back and discussing your opinions of it.

(Phew now they’re all gone we can begin.)

I guess I was extremely worried when I first got into the first few “chapters” of the book. Min was represented as a girl who was “into movies” and had a fascination for films and movie stars. Her best friend Al was introduced from the start and having been in similar situations, which I’m pretty sure most of us have all been in, it was obvious he had feelings for her. But that aside, Ed Slaterton is soon introduced and he is the stereotypical ‘jock’ that every girl at the high school had a crush on. I cringed thinking this was going to be the usual “I can change him/I can make him notice me” trope present in romantic literature for young readers. The characters all grew on me as the book developed. They felt incredibly…normal? I felt like I was watching replicas of people I knew in my own high school experience. The slide comments, the overwhelming anxiety to fit-in and be liked and the want to find the “great big love of your life.”

What was the most beautiful thing about this book was the gut-retching feeling I got when I reached the last few chapters and Ed’s ‘secrets’ caught up with him. This probably affected me more than I thought it would, due to recent relationships I have personally been involved in. I believed the best in Ed as a character. There were moments I stopped myself from judging him for being ‘slow’ or ‘boring’ because I thought it was endearing how much he cared and felt for Min and praised her for being different. Then it turns out he was just as immature and childish as most guys around his age. Daniel Handler had a delicate way of capturing each emotion and feeling she felt to the point where I could almost feel them myself. Flashbacks to when I experienced similar situations and he got every word, every choice of phrase correct.

I think, what I find to summarise the beauty of this book, is the following paragraph where Min, heartbroken, is left to come to the realisation a lot of us come to at some point during high school.

I’m not anything, this is what I realised to Al, crying with my hands dropping the petals but holding this too tight to let go. 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. My clothes are a joke, my jokes are desperate and complicated and nobody else laughs. 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. My mother hates me, I can’t please her. My dad never calls and then calls at the wrong time and sends big gifts or nothing, and all of it makes me scowl at him, and he names me Minerva. I talk shit about everybody and then sulk when they don’t call me, my friends fall away like I’ve dropped them out of an airplane, my ex-boyfriend thinks I’m Hitler when he sees me…etc. (p.336)

This section brought me to tears because…I’ve felt all of that. We’ve all felt like that and Handler just captures ever second of it. I just thoroughly enjoyed every second of it, unable to put it down.

A criticism I probably would have would be the reality of the parents? Where were they? Do parents really let their children do as they please this easily? My mother sure didn’t. Maybe it’s a difference of upbringing? I felt like most of the time the kids were just left to run around and go on excursions at 7/8am till past midnight when they finally returned home. Again, maybe that is just a difference of upbringing.

Language/Style: 8 points
Story: 7 points
Plot: 7 points
Characters: 8 points

Total: 30/40 points

Favourite Quote: “I was stupid, the official descriptive phrase for happy.”

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