four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
57-Mar-Apr-2012
user_rating: 
0

A-Why-We-Broke-UpDaniel Handler is best known for his Series of Unfortunate Events novels, children's books written under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. Why We Broke Up is his first book for young adults.

The Story: Written as a "Dear John" letter penned by precocious high school junior Minerva "Min" Green to her ex-boyfriend, basketball jock and equally brainy Ed Slaterton, Why We Broke Up--through artful images and words--explores an unlikely month-long relationship (a case of opposites attracting for 38 days, to be exact) and its demise. It opens with the image of a baby blue delivery truck, which Min uses to dump off all the trinkets documenting her relationship with Ed: two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a pinhole camera, a note, a protractor, books, a comb from a motel room, and more. In this postbreakup letter, an emotional story of first love (and other firsts) emerges as Min--a film enthusiast who views her life playing out on the silver screen--explains her feelings for Ed and the reasons they cannot stay together.
Little, Brown. 368 pages. $19.99. ISBN: 9780316127257

Los Angeles Times HHHH

"Few male writers could make a teenage-girl narrator in the throes of romantic desire and despair seem so credible, but Handler ... [has] convincingly mined the psyche of the love struck, presenting the story in an elegant and humorous style that borrows some of the tricks he honed as Lemony Snicket. ... It's more difficult to take such an everyday tragedy with a predictable ending and elevate it to an end point of enduring, emotionally effective art." Susan Carpenter

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars"Handler has made [all the film and music references] up, but so superbly you feel certain they must really exist. ... Filled with long, lovely riffs of language (some paragraphs of Min's moody reflections go on for over a page), exquisite scenes of teenage life and the sad souvenirs of one high school relationship, Why We Broke Up is a silken, bittersweet tale of adolescent heartache." Monica Edinger

Walking Brain Cells 4 of 5 Stars"He moves from a more normal syntax and structure into rushes of stream of conscious writing that is breathless and dazzling and bitter. ... Dazzling and honest, this book will speak to any teen who has been dumped, any teen in a relationship, and any teen looking for one." Tasha Saecker

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars"This is not always an easy book to read. At times it's confusing. ... Nonetheless, the emotional payoff is worth the effort." Chelsey Philpot

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars"Handler and Kalman have closed the distance between us and the fraught and sweaty pant of youth. ... The author is better being inside Min's head, filled up with faux-art-film images--Portuguese vampires, unicorns in the park--that give the book a welcome, dreamy quality." Karen R. Long

Critical Summary

Daniel Handler claims on the jacket flap of Why We Broke Up that he was dumped at least three times in high school, but it's still a feat of sorts that he manages so successfully to mine teenage love and heartbreak from an adolescent girl's perspective. Although a few critics felt that Min remains at arm's length, and others opined that her artsy character and ruminations on film won't appeal to the typical teen, they agreed that Handler captures mad teenage love, angst, and courtship better than most YA writers. Reviewers noted a few missteps (Ed and Min are too smart; the adults are notably absent), but, combined with Maira Kalman's full-color, poignant illustrations, the novel captures the intricacies of teenage romance that will, for better or for worse, resonate with us all.