Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman

07 Jan

Why We Broke UpI read this book in one night instead of sleeping.

Things you should know: Daniel Handler also writes children’s books as Lemony Snicket, best known for A Series Of Unfortunate Events.  Maira Kalman is an artist who has published books of her own work along with illustrating books written by other people.  (We previously reviewed one of her picture books here.)  Together they create a physically beautiful book, with glossy pages, full color illustrations, and gorgeous endpapers.  There was basically no chance I wouldn’t buy myself a copy.

The story itself is a letter from a teenage girl, Min, to her boyfriend-for-six-weeks, Ed.  It starts with a box of things that symbolize the relationship to her, which she is unceremoniously dumping on his doorstep.  Each chapter starts with a full-page illustration of an item from the box, followed by a somewhat stream-of-consciousness retelling of how it became important.

If a six-week relationship seems insignificant to you, and definitely not worth being heartbroken over, you may be an adult with a very bad memory of what it’s like to be a teenager.  Min and Ed’s story is full of firsts and lasts, at times painfully awkward while otherwise being perfectly sweet.  Mistakes are made, lessons learned the hard way – and yet, from an outside perspective, the experience gained in six weeks of Min’s Junior year is invaluable.

Another side note about the book itself: The back cover is blurbed by a variety of YA authors – each telling the story of their first love (and loss) in a couple of sentences.  My favorite is from David Levithan: “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.”  Y’know what I would love?  A project similar to the six word memoir to document extremely short versions of first heartbreak.  Because, really, I think we find comfort in the fact that we’re not alone, that what seems huge to our teenage selves will eventually be an amusing footnote.  Or, in the case of this book, a 350-page rambling note to the one who hurt our younger selves.

EDIT: The Why We Broke Up Project exists.  Happy day!

Recommended for anyone who’s ever wanted to rehash a relationship gone bad and get the final word in.  Or at least box up and return all the stuff that reminds you why you were together in the first place – and why you ultimately broke up.


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2 responses to “Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman

  1. mizChartreuse

    January 7, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    Wow! I love the concept. I am fresh from having just ended a nearly 3-year relationship and while the circumstances didn’t necessitate agony and heartbreak for me, I am sure there are things I can empathize with. Even just your writeup has inspired me to perhaps write more about my past relationships and what I’ve learned from them. Thanks for sharing this! Sounds totally up my alley.

  2. Recidivist Reader

    January 7, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    I didn’t know you’d broken up – sorry to hear that. This book definitely lets you know that every breakup comes with its own history and memories. Writing about past relationships, especially after some time has passed, is a great way to see what they taught you, I think!


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