Why We Broke Up
by Daniel Handler; illus. by Maira Kalman
High School Little, Brown 355 pp.
12/11 978-0-316-12725-7 $19.99
Min and Ed’s differences are profound — most obviously, she’s a quirky aspiring filmmaker and he’s a popular jock. Readers see immediately, though, that it’s not simply these practical differences that caused their breakup, the event on which this unique novel, posed as a letter Min is writing to Ed, is centered. In addition to this letter, Min is planning to drop off on Ed’s doorstep a box of items, tiny tokens of their relationship (some with obvious sentimentality, others seemingly random, like a protractor). Though tightly focused and always tethered to its format as a denunciative breakup note explaining the physical memorabilia, Handler’s text continually makes the reader forget this narrow structure: the imagistic, affecting stories that Min tells about each object are completely engrossing and provide insight into their young and flawed love. Min’s thoughts on the significance of each item (and the moment or memory it’s tied to) are mature beyond her age but authentically fit her introspective and intelligent character. The poetic eloquence and honesty of Min’s narration; the clarity with which each idiosyncratic character is drawn; the distinctive premise that gives direction to but does not limit plot: these factors combine to help us comprehend both why they broke up, and why that outcome is not what matters most in this story. A stylish book design, thick glossy pages that make the book satisfyingly hefty, and Kalman’s spare illustrations of the objects heighten the overall enjoyment and perfectly complement Handler’s accomplished prose.
From the January/February 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.