Madelyn’s Bibliophilia: Why We Broke Up

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BY MADELYN SCHMIDT madelyn.schmidt@go.mnstate.edu

A weekly book review column in which I write about classics, newer novels, poetry books, and works by local F-M authors.

Welcome to my life as a bibliophiliac, in which a good book can totally mess up my sleep schedule and make everything else in my life seem significantly less important for a few days.

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Cover of Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, art by Maira Kalman

Wow. “Why We Broke Up” blew me away. This story kept me reading late into the night, and that is saying something, considering this wasn’t even the first time I read it. For this week’s review, I will share my thoughts on Daniel Handler’s young adult novel “Why We Broke Up,” published in 2011 by Little, Brown and Company.

Yes, this book is exactly what you think it is about. In a letter to her ex-boyfriend, film-fanatic high schooler Min tells us every detail about her relationship with jock Ed Slaterton. She is in the midst of dumping this letter on his doorstep, along with a box of the treasures she has kept that explain their short but serious relationship. 

Ed is a star basketball player in the opposite social circle from “arty” Minerva, Min for short. They cross paths at a party, and before we know it, the two are planning an 89th birthday party for actress Lottie Carson and arranging every element to be absolutely perfect for her.

What first struck me about “Why We Broke Up” is the beautiful art included between chapters, illustrating each object in Min’s box for Ed. Artist Maira Kalman captures the items—from ticket stubs to maps, and salt shakers to cookbooks—with vibrant colors and a “messy-on-purpose” impression, which could easily reflect Min and Ed’s relationship itself.

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Pages of Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, art by Maira Kalman

Second, I loved Min’s raw reactions and genuine struggles with relationships, including with her friends who don’t quite approve of Ed. I loved the “letter” concept because we are able to hear Min’s thoughts both during the action and after everything falls apart, when she looks back with a new mindset. Min says what she means and is her genuine self with Ed, able to expose a part of him even his family is surprised to see. I found myself rooting for Min as the story unfolded, dreading the inevitable heartbreak given away by the title.

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Pages of Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, art by Maira Kalman

Although it is fiction, this story and its characters are believable and relatable. Min and Ed’s relationship touches on aspects of probably every high school relationship ever. Rushing in, giving your all to someone you barely know, creating drama, doing stupid things when there is nothing else to do—all of that and more. But Min doesn’t regret anything, and that is what I admire most about her character. 

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Pages of Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, art by Maira Kalman

Handler’s writing style in “Why We Broke Up” is different from most young adult authors’. The paragraphs are often long and ramble-y, and sometimes I had to reread sentences to make sure I fully understood. However, this style worked for the story concept, as Min is essentially getting all of her thoughts down on paper, and we as humans don’t often think in short and concise sentences. I applaud Handler for tackling a different style and making it work with his characters and story.

If you’re into coming-of-age stories about young love and heartbreak that read quickly and keep you entertained, and you also enjoy some good art, “Why We Broke Up” is the perfect novel for you. I’d give the story an 8.5/10 and the artwork a 10/10. Overall, 9.25/10 is my final rating for “Why We Broke Up.”

And that’s what’s on my bookshelf. Until next time!

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