24/06/13 - 'Why We Broke Up' by Daniel Handler

Before this book was published, I'd been waiting with baited breath for its release.  Having read Adverbs (my review of which you can read here) and of course The Series of Unfortunate Events - written by Handler under the assumed name of Lemony Snicket - I was really looking forward to experiencing yet another facet of his writing.  This young-adult novel details the failed relationship between Min Green and her basketball vice-captain boyfriend, Ed.  The reader experiences the story through a long letter written by Min as she returns the tokens and trinkets collected throughout their time together, each one a little part of the reason they broke up.  Every chapter starts with a beautiful painting by Maira Kalman of each item as they come out of the box followed by the next section of the story.  The illustrations really add something to the novel in my opinion, giving everyday objects the added weight and meaning which Min has given them by keeping them.

Having said how much I'd been looking forward to reading it, this book spent nearly a year gathering dust on a shelf before I finally got around to it...but it was certainly worth the wait. Handler's trademark writing style - often described as, horror of horrors, 'quirky' - is a fantastic insight into the mind of our protagonist.  Min, who is continually referred to as "different" at her insistence "don't say arty", is a high school junior (which means nothing to me as a Brit but Google tells me is basically around ages 16 and 17) who embarks on an unexpected relationship with 'jock' Ed.  Handler does a great job of making Ed more than your typical shallow athlete as portrayed in every American teen movie and sitcom going...or at least, a great job of making the reader believe that he can be more than that, as Min does.  However, it's the moments at which he lives up to his stereotype which seem to contribute to the ultimate downfall of their romance.  While the relationship lasts only a matter of weeks, the emotions of the novel are totally believable as the young couple fall madly in love and it's very easy to be swept along with them.  The love story can be bittersweet in places due to our prior knowledge, but this doesn't make the climax any less heart-breaking.  I often found myself forgetting that the whole thing was doomed from the outset and when I remembered, hoping against hope for a happy ending.  In this way, it could be considered as a modern-day Romeo and Juliet - it's true that Min and Ed initially seem incompatible due to their very contrasting social groups and spend much of their time trying to justify their relationship to friends and family who just don't understand.  However, I'm glad to say that Handler's ultimate body count is far less than Shakespeare's.

This story is one that nearly everyone is familiar with; that first rush of excitement which develops into feelings of love (true or otherwise) and ultimately ends with you looking back on the time that's passed and trying to pick out the clues for where it went wrong and, as the title says, why you broke up.  Towards the end, there are over three pages of what can be described as 'high school angst'; Min rants that, contrary to popular belief, she isn't at all different - "I talk like a moron, I can't say one thing to talk to people that makes them like me...only stupid people would think I was smart...I'm a blemished blemish, a ruined ruin, a stained wreck".  While at times Min can come across as a little pretentious, largely she seems wise and articulate beyond her years.  Somehow, Handler's poetic and flowing prose stops it seeming self-indulgent and pathetic, and instead speaks to me of exactly how being a teenager is.  Everyone's had those feelings, whether it was after a break-up or just after a hard day, that nothing they do is right and that they're essentially worthless, and this is captured perfectly within the pages of this book.

If you're looking for an easy romantic tale to flick through on the beach this summer, maybe give this book a miss.  But if you want a story which will tug on your heartstrings with equal parts romance, humour and almost uncomfortably familiar home-truths, then this is the one for you.  And if this gets you in the mood for a few more break-up stories, head over to 'The Why We Broke Up Project' - some are painful ("I loved you unconditionally, you only loved me when I was 'perfect'"), some are poignant ("every photograph he ever took of me was out-of-focus"), some seem petty ("you didn't cry at the final Harry Potter film"), and all are worth a read.  Trust me, you can waste hours getting little snippets of other people's relationships on here.  You can even watch Daniel Handler himself accosting strangers in Grand Central Station to ask about their own personal heartbreak (watch here if the embedded video doesn't work).

If you have any book recommendations, leave them in the comments!


  1. Sounds like an interesting read! Thanks for sharing! Xo, M&K at brewedtogether.com

  2. Glad you enjoyed the review :) x

  3. Think i may have to read! Good review!


    1. It really is fantastic, I'd definitely recommend it :)


  4. Great review! Think I'll give it a go this summer. :) x