Author: Daniel Handler
Art by: Maira Kalman
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Publishing Date: December 2011
Number of Pages: 354
Genre: Young Adult, Romance
This is the box, Ed.
Inside is everything.
Two bottle caps, a movie ticket from Greta in the Wild, a note from you, a box of matches, your protractor, Joan’s book, the stolen sugar, a toy truck, those ugly earrings, a comb from the motel, and the rest of it.
This is it, Ed.
The whole story of why we broke up.
There are just times when readers are easily attracted by the glossy book covers that dazzle them upon setting sight on these books. I admit, I am one of those type of readers who buy books because of the interesting book covers even though I barely have an iota on what the book is about. Over the years, I have made purchases solely on this reason. It is quite a tricky business because some made great reads while some, not so.
This is again the case when I encountered a copy of Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up on one of my unexpected bookstore excursions. The book’s cover really piqued my attention at first glance. Aside from the ostentatious book cover, the title also got my intrigued. I thought it would give me a different yet wonderful and meaningful reading experience. Why We Broke Up really got me excited especially after I skimmed through the book. Its colorful illustrations immediately captured my imagination. To keep my anticipation from mounting further, I decided to read the book immediately. I’m not going to let the book gather any more dust.
And so goes the adage, “Curiosity killed the cat.”
The story is about high schoolers Min Green and Ed Slaterton. Min is a junior student while Ed is a senior basketball jock. The two got into an unexpected relationship that shortly ended. Thence, Min, who was on the process of moving on, wrote a letter to Ed, recounting how their relationship came to be and hot it eventually ended. Along with the letter, Min returned a boxful of items Min collected and treasured during their short-lived relationship. The resulting letter is this book.
At first I thought the book was cute and humorous. But as I reflect further on what I just read, the only thing that I can perceive is its shallowness. Don’t get me wrong, being brokenhearted is a serious matter. But I just find Min an obnoxious character, moping about her lost love affair. Her letter is a mere litany of rants, regrets and failed dreams. It is an amateurish yet anguished attempt to gather her bearings after her bitter heartbreak.
Another issue I had with the book is the way the conversations were handled. They were too contrived and lacked a natural flow. I guess this is attributed to Handler’s barely passing job of developing the characters. Min, for instance, could have been a wonderful character but she is barely believable. Yes, she is a mere figment of the imagination but Handler didn’t do any better in at least making her a reality. None of the other characters felt believable as well. It didn’t help that most of the characters are passive.
In spite of its shallowness, brokenhearted individuals would find it easy to relate to Min’s predicament. What she is going through is, as I’ve said, something that is not easy to overcome. Min is the quintessential teenager who easily gets attached. Min is simply lost, especially that she is the last person everyone would expect a basketball jock like Ed would date.
What made the book bearable are the colorful illustrations. It made the book glossier, hence, somewhat more appealing. In spite of its failures, Daniel Handler did a passable job in getting through with the narrative. He adapted the right tone and the right pace. He was able to portray the entire process of falling in love to moving on. And I was able to understand why Handler was good at writing. Daniel Handler, I learned while reading this book, also wrote under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. That is correct, Handler is behind the popular children’s book series, A Series of Unfortunate of Events.
The thing is, the book is difficult to appreciate unless you are going through the same predicament Min is going through. Min came out to me full of puerile angst that didn’t really work on a literary point of view. It is cute but cute doesn’t necessarily make for an outstanding read. The illustrations really did the book a favor by complimenting the dull story. It is just unfortunate that it didn’t display Handler’s enter repertoire.
Why We Broke Up is the quintessence of young adult fiction, a genre that I dread. It is full of the things that I dislike about the genre. The story is shallow and lacked the depth that I was looking for in a book. It is entertaining but it ends there. It didn’t help that I was reading Handler’s magnus opus, “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” whilst reading Why We Broke Up. I can’t help but compare the two books and the disparity is just glaring. This book is one of the reasons why I try to avoid reading young adult fiction. Too bad.
And that’s why we broke up.
Recommended for those looking for light reads, those who are going through a breakup, those who enjoy reading books aided by illustrations, and those who enjoy young adult fiction.
Not recommended for those who are looking for great literary reads, and those who dislike young adult fiction.
About the Author
More popularly known under his pseudonym Lemony Snicket, Daniel Handler rose to worldwide recognition with his epic children’s series, A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Handler was born on February 28, 1970 in San Francisco, California to Sandra Handler and Louis Handler. As a child, he was a voracious reader and his favorite author is William Keepers Maxwell Jr. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1992 and was awarded the 1992 Connecticut Student Poet Prize.
Six of his books were published under his name. His first novel, The Basic Eight was published in 1998 after being rejected 37 times due to its dark theme. This was shortly followed by Watch Your Mouth. In April 2005, Adverbs, a collection of short stories, was published. His third novel, Why We Broke Up was published in January 2011 and won the 2012 Michael L. Printz honor award. We Are Pirates and All The Dirty Parts were published in February 2015, and May 2017, respectively.
Handler began working on A Series of Unfortunate Events in 1998 under the pseudonym Snicket. To those who have read the series, Snicket is also the narrator of the book. The series has since then been adapted into a movie.
Handler is married to Lisa Brown. The couple has a son, Otto Handler. They are currently residing in San Francisco.