Here is the official blurb from the publisher:
WHY WE BROKE UP by Daniel Handler, Illustrated by Maira Kalman
I’m telling you why we broke up, Ed. I’m writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened.
Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.
The concept behind WHY WE BROKE UP fascinates me. A girl uses a box full of mementos to explain to her ex why they broke up. Every chapter begins with an illustration of the item, as if the girl is picking it up, examining it, and remembering what the item meant to her. We get a sneak peek at her memories through a letter she is writing to the ex that she plans to drop in the box. We follow the couple as they first notice each other at a party to the final scene that ends their relationship. (As an aside, I heard Daniel Handler speak at my local Books Inc. indie, and he mentioned that Maira created the illustrations first and he used these to write the story. I love the idea of art begetting art.)
I can easily see why this book was a Printz winner. Aside from the unique concept, the stream-of-consciousness narration sounds like a teen girl. Even better, it feels like we’re riding that rush of first love along with her. From the giddy highs to the scary lows, I didn’t feel like the voice was censored. The humor laced throughout the story won me over, and there were some phrases that made me laugh out loud, particularly in the scene when Min introduces Ed to her friends and he promptly does everything wrong.
Another strength of the book is how Min acknowledges how naïve she was, and how she wore love-blinders in her relationship with Ed. Often couples admit the signs were there all along, but they ignored them in the heat of their emotion. As a reader, we wear the same blinders. We might notice that something isn’t quite right, but initially, we see Ed as Min does.
The only complaint I had was the very end. The concept locks us into a certain timeline. Once the last item is thrown in the “breakup” box, the story must end. Therefore, it seems to end abruptly and without a lot of closure. If we’re hoping for a bigger end with more insight into the future, you’ll be disappointed. A lot is left to the imagination, which some readers may prefer in any case.
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