Book Review Why We Broke up by Daniel Handler

Although you’re probably more familiar with Daniel Handler’s work under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket this is not quite A Series of Unfortunate Events. Or maybe it is.

Why We Broke Up starts with a thunk, the thunk of Min dropping a box on Ed’s doorstep, full of the reasons why they broke up. The novel takes the form of a letter from Min to Ed, telling the story of how they got together, their relationship, and why they ultimately broke up.

In some ways it feels odd to read the story of these two teenagers falling in love, watching old movies, and fighting those who don’t want them to be together, when you already know how it all ends, but Handler’s beautiful writing really showcases Min’s sense of clarity and retrospection. At times Min can be a little annoying or incredibly pretentious but it’s hard not to empathise with her when the Min writing the letter can see so clearly the mistakes of the Min who first fell in love with Ed.

Essentially this is a love story, and we don’t only see the bad parts of Min and Ed’s relationship but the good parts too. We see them fall in love, knowing that it won’t last, and although at the start it may feel like these are two people who should never have fallen in love, that doesn’t lessen the blow when the story reaches its climax and Min reveals the real reason, in all its painful details, of why they broke up.

If you are familiar with any of Handler’s other words then you will know how lyrical his prose can be. Parts of this novel almost read like poetry and it all reads like Min. The voice of Min’s letter is spot on and you can really feel the emotions in the words. To support those beautiful words, throughout the book there are equally beautiful illustrations, painted by Maira Kalman. Each of the illustrations shows a different item from the box that Min leaves for Ed, which makes the story feel all that more real. The illustrations bring the reader deeper into the story, showing us what Min sees, and on top of that they are simply a delight to look at. There are several illustrations in this novel that I wouldn’t mind having framed and displayed on my wall at home.

I could barely put this book down while I was reading, and when I had to I found myself thinking about it non-stop. Handler’s words and Kalman’s illustrations really work together to draw the reader into this world, and the characters there feel so very real and flawed that it’s almost impossible to shake them off. The voices and the dialogue feel so real that it’s difficult not to get attached, and although you know it’s coming, you might just feel a little regretful when Min and Ed really do break up.

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