I enjoyed Why We Broke Up, written by Daniel Handler (better known as Lemony Snicket) and quirkily illustrated by Maira Kalman, but it didn’t read as YA to me. The book is a culmination of Daniel and Maira personal experiences being dumped, but it is set in the high school world of junior Min’s surprise relationship with senior, basketball star Ed.
What set this book apart, aside from the illustrations, which I will get to in a minute, were the reactions and inner thoughts of the characters. While many YA novels show teenagers reacting to juvenile situations and analyzing them like adults, Why We Broke Up shows Min and Ed responding to adult situations and problems like teenagers.
In a world where being together for weeks equal decades in adult years, and expectations and cliques dominate their peers behavior. Min and Ed beat the odds when getting together. Their struggles have more to do with the mutual exclusivity of their interests and future goals than their clashing friend groups. The result is a heart-racing and heartbreaking trip through the details, discontinuities, and ultimate demise of their relationship with Min as your tour guide.
The narrative is strong, the conversation witty, and the characterization pretty close to perfect, but what kept me reading was the book’s structure, punctuated by the illustrations of Maira Kalman. Min breaks their relationship into episodic stories each connected to a saved memento from their time together. I finished this book by staying up too late two nights in a row, promising myself I would only read one more object.
The first illustration in the book is a picture of a box, containing the lost relationship’s treasures, with the words “You either have the feeling or you don’t,” scribbled across the top. I think this is an adequate description of how people feel about the book. You will either get it, connect to it in some way, or you won’t. I’m not sure what to say, except that I did.
For further reading and reviews: