Rating: 5 out of 5
Well, I didn't think that any book this year would be able to top David Levithan's Every Day, but it turns out that Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman created an even better tale of teen romance!
Why We Broke Up (2011) is written in the form of a very long letter by Min (short for Minerva) Green, a teenage girl who has left her boyfriend Ed Slaterton. But instead of a typical break-up story, each chapter revolves around a particular item from their relationship. Min has accumulated various odds and ends--bottle caps, a movie ticket, an egg cuber--and now she is dumping the box of love trinkets on his doorstep just as she is dumping him.
One of the many cool things about this book is its creation story: An interview at the end of the audiobook explained that Handler (author of A Series of Unfortunate Events under the pen name Lemony Snicket) and Kalman (artist for books, magazines, and fashion designers) had worked together on a previous project called 13 Words when Kalman suggested a bunch of items that she wanted to paint. Handler then constructed the novel around the illustrations, rather than vice versa.
Not knowing this tidbit before buying the book, I regret not having a print version since I didn't get to experience the magic of Kalman's illustrations, a few of which have been included below:
I was intrigued by this novel because I loved Handler's A Series of Unfortunate Events and I had not yet read any books published under his real name. Disappointed after Meg Cabot's Jinx, I hoped Why We Broke Up would better depict teenage struggles in life and love.
I certainly wasn't disappointed! Handler does an excellent job getting inside the mind of a high school girl: Teenagers and adults alike can relate to Min's body image issues, fights with her mother, and anxiety over her reputation after losing her virginity. Unlike many female protagonists, she's multidimensional. Outspoken about her Jewish heritage and passion for classic cinema, she manages to juggle her boyfriend and friends with relative grace.
She also learns how difficult relationships are when she would rather relax in coffee shops than sit through Ed's basketball practices; although many adults flourish in opposites-attract partnerships, it's a monumental challenge in school when your cliques try to pull you two apart. I appreciated how Min still preserved her identity, even though she couldn't preserve her relationship.
Of course, the reader quickly gets addicted to this story, as I found myself listening to chapter after chapter hoping to get more kernels of information on exactly "Why We Broke Up." And although Min and Ed ended as quickly as they began (they didn't even make it to their second month anniversary), there were plenty of ups and downs on their emotional rollercoaster.
So if you're looking for a realistic portrayal of puppy love, regardless of your own age, you'll greatly enjoy Why We Broke Up. It's beautifully written and illustrated, so it's no surprise to hear that its movie adaptation will be released next Valentine's Day, starring "True Grit" actress Hailee Steinfeld (also portraying Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet" and Petra in "Ender's Game," both of which are in theaters this year!).
And the fun doesn't stop there! (or as the infomercials say, "But wait! There's more!"). If you're a little bummed that you can't fully relate to the break-up of Min and Ed, check out The Why We Broke Up Project Tumblr, where citizens and celebrities alike have revealed the details behind their relationship downfalls.
My favorite entry? David Levithan's, if you can imagine!
"The boy I loved didn't know I existed. Then again, he was obsessed with Camus, so he didn't know if any of us existed."
Levithan, I loved Every Day, but Handler just stole the spot for my favorite book of the year! However, with nine months left, who knows what could happen?