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Why we broke up
Book
2012
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  New York Times Review

Daniel Handler's novel sifts through the wreckage of a high school romance. "IT'S not you, it's me - you're great" "I'm so sorry, but this just isn't working out." "I think we should see other people." Whether it was the boy who dumped you in the sandbox for that kid with the bright red fire truck or the girl who abruptly stopped answering your notes during algebra, no one makes it through life without exposure to that miserable condition known as the breakup. And now we have Daniel Handler (who also writes as Lemony Snicket) giving us the lowdown on the rise and fall of one dissolution in particular in "Why We Broke Up." No spoiler here - the title says it all: Min Green, a high school junior, and Ed Slaterton, a senior, have broken up. All that remains is for Min to tell Ed why in one very long letter, explicating a collection of artifacts from their romance (as illustrated by Maira Kalman) that she has tossed into a box and is about to dump on his front porch. The first object: a couple of bitter-ale bottle caps from her friend Al's Bitter Sixteen party where she and her arty group are enjoying bitter music, bitter food and, yes, bitter beer when Ed, a basketball star, and a few of his pals show up. "It was flushed, every room, too hot and too loud, and I ran up the stairs, knocked in case people were in Al's bed already, picked up the cardigan, and then slipped outside for air and in case you were in the yard," Min recalls breathlessly. "And you were, you were." The sparks between Min and Ed are immediate, and so it begins. A film aficionado, Min wants to be a director one day, and this brings us to the next artifact: a ticket stub from the vintage movie theater where the smitten and affable Ed joins her for their first date, to see the legendary film star Lottie Carson in "Greta in the Wild." One of the book's many charms is that Min can't go long without resorting to a film reference, often a full synopsis of a beloved movie. Handler has made them all up, but so superbly you feel certain they must really exist. He does similar magic with music; I still want to hear the sounds of Hawk Davies, whose delightful jazz seems to flow through the book. Their romance lasts only a few weeks, but the fullness and richness of the two falling madly in love and lust in that short time is beautifully rendered. As is Handler's remarkable presentation of an adolescent girl's point of view: at one moment, during a deadly-boring-to-her basketball game, Min wonders wryly just what is keeping her in the relationship, while at another, her responses to Ed's amorous attentions make it very, very clear. But it isn't just sex, and Ed is no dumb stud. Not only is he a top-notch basketball player and a math whiz, he also easily matches wits with Min in conversation. Handler ably shows their developing feelings for each other while tearing holes in the fabric of the relationship. Take the moment when Ed, looking to write down a number for Min, carelessly rips off a corner of a poster she has just put up - a poster that her friends have worked hard on, that means a lot to them though it is meaningless to him. A similar act of arrogance at a local hangout with Min's friends leaves them dumb-founded and him genially oblivious. Handler captures the sweetness of Min and Ed's courtship, their sincere feelings for each other, and their differences, partly - but not only - because they are from such contrasting social groups. Min and her friends are cerebral types, full of arch comments, esoteric references and extreme loyalties to one another. As for Ed, within his circle of jocks, the boys are baffled by his besottedness with Min, while the girls are alternately irritated and tolerant. As befits a book set tightly in the world of adolescence, adults barely register - the only one of note is Ed's older sister, Joan, who is taking care of things while their mother is ill. Kalman's illustrations poignantly encapsulate the detritus of the romance, providing an emotional vernacular all their own. Like film stills in Min's mind, they achieve a powerful impact as the book draws to a close. 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 is a fourth-grade teacher at the Dalton School in New York City and blogs at Educating Alice.

  Booklist Review

*Starred Review* This novel may sound like another tale of boy meets girl, but, folks, it's all in the delivery. In faltering pitter-patter dialogue and thick, gushy, grasping-for-words paragraphs, Handler takes a tired old saw, the romance between senior basketball cocaptain Ed Slaterton and junior cinephile Min Green, and injects us into the halting, breathless, disbelieving, horny, and nervous minds of two teens who feel different only in how they define themselves in contrast to each other that dumbstruck, anthropological joy of introducing foreign films to a dude schooled only in layups, and vice versa. The story is told from Min's perspective, a bittersweet diatribe of their breakup arranged around objects (a matchbox, a bottle cap, a dish towel, an ahem condom wrapper) of varying importance that she intends on returning to him. (Kalman's full-color drawings of these objects were not available for review.) It is fitting that the chapters center upon these items; the story itself feels like blurry photos, snippets of stray recordings all the more powerful because of how they evoke truth more than any mere relaying of facts. Yes, the relationship breaks apart like a predictable song, but Handler's genius is to make us hear those minor-key notes as if they were playing on our first and last dates, too. In the mood to break additional hearts? Pair this with Pete Hautman's The Big Crunch (2011). HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Yes, Handler is mostly known to the younger set as Mr. Snicket, but this effort finds the perfect spot between his youth and adult novels, a fact born out by the high-caliber promotional plans.--Kraus, Daniel Copyright 2010 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

(Romance. 14 up)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary
I'm telling you why we broke up, Ed. I'm writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened. <br> <br> Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.
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