Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
publication date: 2011
Why We Broke Up is enjoyable not because of its plot, which is a standard “young-girl-meets-young-boy-and-hearts-are-broken” storyline, but because of its concept, theme, and characters. It is these things that give the book life and interest.
In Why We Broke Up, Min Green, a junior in high school who aspires to be a film director, is writing a letter to her ex-boyfriend Ed Slaterton, a jocky, popular senior. The letter is a chronicle of their relationship. This concept allows Handler to use both first- and second-person narrative. The use of these narratives effectively transported me into the middle of Min and Ed’s story. For example, I felt it when Min, in a fit of jealousy, danced with her ex-boyfriend in front of Ed. As I was reading that scene, I had to put the book down. I was so embarrassed for everyone involved. Handler’s use of first- and second-person made scenes like that deeply vivid and evocative.
Also, as mentioned above, the book had an alluring theme. One of the themes of the book was the effect objects have on our mood and memory. As Min is writing her letter to Ed, she is sifting through a box of things she kept that reminded her of Ed and their relationship. Each time she examines a new object, a flood of memories surges into her mind. That is an accurate depiction of how I interact with objects. Even as I look around my living room, I am reminded. I see our PlayStation 3 and I think of the look on my boyfriend’s face when I gave it to him for his birthday. I see my collection of Animorphs books and I think of my fifth-grade best friend’s bedroom with all her horse posters. Min’s physical examination of the objects paralleled the emotional examination we all make when we are sorting through our past.
The third reason Why We Broke Up was a compelling read was the characters. Notwithstanding the Juno-esque, too-cool-for-school dialogue, the characters were very realistic. I felt like I knew an Ed, a Min, and an Al, Min’s “is he or isn’t he?” best friend. The realism of the characters made me interested in their stories and dramas.
However, as alluded to above, Why We Broke Up is not perfect. The dialogue is often cheesy and too-too. For example, Ed’s college-age sister Joan says this when Min offers to help her cook dinner: “All my life, Min, for eons I have waited for someone to ask that question. I hope you agree that aprons are useless, but here, take this.” and hands Min a rubber band for her hair. That sentence was clearly meant to impart so much: Joan is a young person who cooks – how quirky. She doesn’t like aprons – how fresh. She puts great emphasis on temporal words – how . . . cute? Unfortunately, much of the dialogue was that way.
Additionally, I wasn’t swept up in all Min’s emotions. I suppose its because its been almost a decade since high school, but I didn’t experience as a reader the vexations Min was feeling concerning losing her virginity, love triangles, and the boredom and woe that is adolescence. Although I couldn’t completely empathize with Min, I did reflect on my own life as I was reading, which is always a good exercise.
4/6: worth reading
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