I looked at Why We Broke Up a few times in the bookstore before Alison D suggested it for the blog. The premise intrigued me. Min and Ed have broken up, and Min is returning everything Ed ever gave her over the course of their five week relationship. The novel is a letter in which she explains the significance of each item.
The beginning annoyed me slightly. I was constantly asking myself why Min was telling Ed these stories when he had been there. He was there when they met; he went on that first date with her. He was half the relationship. Some of the letter does explain her thoughts and feelings, but a lot of it was (necessary but very obvious) exposition.
I kept reading in the hopes that the book would improve. Min has a very strong voice. I like that her voice is strong but disliked the voice itself. I found it very hard to read and was constantly having to stop and reread to understand what was happening, which I hate. The writing feels very true to the way people actually speak, but there is a reason most people do not write like that. It does not translate well to print. Good dialogue should read naturally and feel natural, but it does not follow that realistic, natural speech makes good dialogue.
However, none of that bothered me enough to stop reading. I was getting annoyed but thought I would finish it. I was wrong. I hit my breaking point at page 80. Page 80 is the start of three whole pages on what an average day in high school is like for Min. Three. Whole. Pages. And they are three pages of generic… stuff. Nothing revealing, nothing specific, just stuff. That was the last straw. I read 20 more pages and then stopped.
Those three self-indulgent pages summarize my biggest problem with the book. It is so boring. Every situation is trite. The illustrations add nothing to the story. The characters are all stereotypes. Sure, Min is voice-y, but she also sounds and acts just like all her friends (who are also boring stereotypes).
I’m so sick of reading YA novels where the characters fit into certain groups (jocks, artsy kids, geeks, drama nerds, etc.) and they only have friends who are also in those groups and all their interests relate to their groups. Why don’t jocks ever like arty movies? Why don’t artsy kids ever play sports? Why are these traits (and so many others) so mutually exclusive in YA novels? Aren’t teenagers today interesting people who do lots of different activities and can’t they relate to lots of different people? Why don’t YA novels reflect that? There are some novels out there that do this well. The last one I read was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Please feel free to recommend other books with characters with diverse interests who defy stereotypes. I’d rather read those books than finish the last 250 pages of Why We Broke Up.