Why We Broke Up was one of three Printz Award/Honor winners that I hadn’t read. I do try to keep up with award and honor winners, so I put a hold on this one. It was a quick read, partly because of the number of paintings that show the objects Min is returning.
I loved Min’s voice, which seemed fresh, believable, and funny. I especially liked the tipping point letter, where she talks about being different and how she’s not (I’m trying not to spoil anything there).
Why We Broke Up is an epistolary novel, supposedly written by Min as she drives to Ed’s house to return the box of stuff. I liked the format, especially the paintings. They helped to ground the narrative ina physical reality. It does require some suspension of disbelief, but Daniel Handler did manage to deal with my major problem (“This is seriously the longest car ride EVER!”). I think for people who have a history of liking epistolary novels, this is a great book. And for others, it might be a good one to take a chance on.
So overall, I really really liked this one. However, I did have some frustrations. There are a few spoilers below, but this really is not a book where spoilers matter. It’s in the title, people.
1. For all that Min talks about this as the “end of Ed,” she’s clearly been hugely affected by her time with him, and I wasn’t convinced that this would change just because she returns the box. Now, Handler may be making exactly that point, in a sneaky, meta sort of way. Regardless, it seems like hard knocks on Al who
2. I felt was under developed. Sure, the point is that he’s the unexpected one, the one who sneaks up on you. But personally I felt that narratively speaking, he’s NOT unexpected. Min might find him unexpected, but the reader knows he’s there from the beginning. With that being the case, I wanted to know more about him, which is where I think the confines of the format create a problem. It doesn’t necessarily make sense for Min to talk about Al to Ed, but without having more of a sense of Al, it’s hard to be satisfied with the ending.
3. This also holds true with Ed to some degree. We know quite a bit more about what Min sees in him, but we never really know why there’s a split between the nice Ed, the one who loves Min, and the jerk Ed. Again, maybe Handler is making a point here? that Min can never know and therefore we can never know? But it felt a little more sloppy than that.
4. Also, why the mysterious and baffling hints about Ed’s mother? We never meet her, we never really know what’s up with her and that strand just gets dropped.
All in all, I think it’s a good book and one definitely worth reading. I’d be interested to hear if other people have similar problems with it, or if I just got frustrated.
Book source: public library
Book information: Hachette, 2011; YA (I’d say on the upper end of YA, but could vary).
A note: Daniel Handler is indeed the real person behind Lemony Snicket. Why We Broke Up is not A Series of Unfortunate Events, however. Forget the two are connected at all! (On the other hand, he did quote a Philip Larkin poem at the end of The End, so maybe they’re not as far removed as I think.)