Book Review: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

When Min breaks up with Ed, she decides to write a letter detailing exactly why they are breaking up.  With the letter comes a box full of things: bottle caps, movie tickets, matches, books, toys, earrings, and every other item collected over the course of Min and Ed’s whirlwind relationship.  All of the items are explained as Min works through her thoughts about their relationship, eventually dumping the box and the letter at Ed’s house.

There’s a lot of great stuff in Daniel Handler’s novel (with beautiful art by Moira Kalman), but perhaps the book’s greatest accomplishment is how well it captures the feeling of first love for two people.  Smartly written and excellently paced, Handler’s novel is a testament to first love and first heartbreak and is definitely a standout book.

Min and Ed are total opposites: he’s a total douche-jock and she’s an arty, film-obsessed loudmouth.  Despite the fact that no one else can figure out why Min and Ed are together, their love story works, and it’s absolutely something readers can relate to.  As the story unfolds and Min begins to explain the significance of all the objects, readers are given access to the underside of Min and Ed’s story, and it’s a fascinating one.

What could be a fairly ordinary “opposites attract” love story is given new life through Handler’s exquisite storytelling.  He makes his characters crackle with chemistry, and there’s so much honesty and authenticity in this book that it’s hard to put down or look away.  This is a strong novel in every sense of the word with tons of crossover appeal.

The only downside to this near-perfect book comes near the end, with a conclusion that feels a little rushed and a little too cliche.  Most readers will be willing to overlook this, though, as this is a poignant coming-of-age story that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last beautifully-colored page.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler. 2011: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Library copy. Read for 2012 Cybils Round 1 Panel.