Saturday, August 25, 2012

Review: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Title: Why We Broke Up 

Author: Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket!)

Rating: 3.5 Stars

I read this novel last week, so I don’t remember much of how I felt while I read it, except from what I have to go by from my notes, but I do remember thinking, the very moment I finished it, that I hated it. I hated this book with a passion. Ironically, it wasn’t even because I didn’t like it – it was because I liked it so much, I was so sucked into this tale and its characters and wrapped up in this crazy, beautiful, teenage dream that was the life of the main character that I forgot what the title of this book was. I forgot how it doesn’t have a happy ending and I felt like a swift kick had been dealt to me. Why We Broke Up isn’t a particularly notable novel because of its unique letter-writing style or its colorful pictures that adorn the beginnings of every chapter or even the fact that it is written by Lemony Snicket. No, Why We Broke Up is notable simply because it is a character-driven novel of such remarkable talent that it makes you feel for the characters, drop into their skin and walk around in their worlds and although you feel completely like the main character herself, this book can’t help but make you recall your own past, your own first “loves”, your own stupidity, your own mistakes, and your own high school traumas. It’s not a book I’d usually enjoy and for much of this novel I was rather indifferent to it, but somewhere in the middle that all changed. Somewhere in the middle, this book ceased being about Min and started being about me or my friends or my family. It started morphing into a deep and provocative look into relationships, the cracks that form even from the beginning, the lies we pretend not to see, and the desperation we have to hold on and regain those blissful moments we had before. To simply put it, it was remarkable.

I think it’s a no brainer what happens at the end of this book: Min Green and Ed Slaterton break up. Min Green, our enigmatic protagonist who is obsessed with old movies, wants to become a director, and is so, so different from Ed Slaterton. Ed Slateron, our swoon-worthy romantic interest who is obsessed with basketball, has a cool older sister, and whose relationship with Min Green is so, so unexpected. When these two meet at a party, somehow, against all odds, they wind up falling for each other. Why We Broke Up is told from the perspective of Min as she writes Ed a letter, pouring her heart out and analyzing everything that went wrong in their relationship, one object at a time. Essentially, she tells them why they broke up and why their beautiful romance, which defied the very laws of high school hierarchy, was torn apart and ruined, despite its prior perfection.

If you’re worried about the narration style of this story, don’t be. It reads like a fluid story and I loved how Min would insert a small bit of cryptic bitterness at the end of nearly every chapter, explaining how that event in their relationship slowly led to her breakup with Ed. While I’ve said this before, I think it deserves repeating: I didn’t think I was invested in this story until I was forced to accept that I was. It’s one of those novels that creep up on you slowly and the characters gradually take their places in your heart. I loved Min – I mean, can she just be my best friend already? I loved how her passion for old movies was so prominent, oozing off of every page and making her such a realistic character. Furthermore, her relationships with everyone, from her parents to her best friends to Ed, are all so heartfelt that you can’t help but be sucked into them. Min is a biased narrator, that much is obvious from the beginning, but her story isn’t all about why Ed Slaterton is terrible. She tells it slowly, allowing it to progress through every stage of their relationship exactly as she felt it then, so you can’t help but want these two to work out despite the fact that you know they won’t. It’s one of the true marvels of Handler/Snicket’s writing and I am seriously in awe of his talent as an author.

What else is absolutely amazing about this book? I think the sole reason it’s so popular is because it’s so easy to connect to. We’ve all had someone we’ve crushed on in the past or went out with or dreamed out going out with (fictional/celebrity crushes, anyone?) and Why We Broke Up makes you recall all those feelings and emotions once again. It makes you feel that same excitement that first love can bring about and makes you feel that same pain that only first love can wrought, but it’s all the better as a novel for that. I don’t think many stories can really claim to do all that, but this one can. Furthermore, I think it provides such a strong sense of closure that you feel satisfied, despite the ending. I do wish though, that there had been more details and development of Min’s grief between the time she broke up with Ed and the time she wrote Ed the letter – what types of situations and hurt feelings did she have to bear before it felt cathartic enough to write this letter to her ex and give away all the trinkets she had saved of their relationship? I wish I knew.

This book isn’t for everyone. In fact, I think the narration will grate on a lot of readers because it has run-on sentences and seems so pretentious at times. It’s also not an easy book to read – I had to set it aside and come back to it after a couple of hours constantly, simply because of all the memories that kept flooding back as I read this and all the emotions it truly made me feel. Ultimately though, I think this only added to the reading experience. It made it that much more unique and special and astounding. Why We Broke Up isn’t a book I’ll ever re-read, but it is one that I won’t be able to forget. Min’s journey has felt so real that it’s hard to remind myself that it was fictional. Thus, I’d definitely recommend this novel to anyone who likes descriptive and figurative prose, multi-dimensional characters and slow/creeping themes. It isn’t a novel for everyone, but sometimes it take a certain person and a certain journey or past experience to enjoy a novel and that’s exactly the kind of book this is: the type that sucks you in and makes sure you never forget it.

OH! Before I forget - Ed Slaterton, this one's for you:  
Now, doesn't that feel so much better? ;)

You can read Jasprit's review on The Reader's Den which convinced me to pick up this book here. Thanks Jasprit! :)  


  1. This is such a wonderful review, as always, Keertana, but please, just this once, allow me to focus on something else: YOU ARE READING FEED! I wanted to run around my living room flailing, but I'd be setting a bad example for my already hyper kid. SO EXCITED.

    1. Thanks Maja!(: Yes, I am reading Feed! It's a little slow, but I'm really enjoying it! I'm glad to see you liked it so much - definitely gave me the motivation to read faster! ;)

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  3. Fantastic book review Keertana!!! I wish I had your awesome super powers in writing such amazing reviews!

    -Grace from The Humble Watermelon

  4. I am so not reading this story! I know I would just fall in love with this two as a couple and then the rug would be pulled out from under me! WHY write such and ending?!! I'm guessing of course but the title gives it away!

    Is Ed getting the tray in the face because of something he did? I can only imagine. Still not going to read this but loved your review Keertana. :)

    1. Thanks Rachel! I can perfectly understand why you wouldn't read this and yes, I fell in love with these two as a couple so hard! It was really a heartbreaking story! Ed totally deserves that tray in the face...TOTALLY! ;)

  5. I have to echo Rachel's feelings on this one! Still, it does sounds incredibly memorable so I may end up deciding to pick it up one day when I'm in the mood. I do love the sound of the narration and Min. I'm glad you enjoyed this, Keertana! Brilliant review, lovely! :)

    1. Thanks Sam!(: I completely understand your reasons about not reading this one - you really do have to be in a certain mood for it. I'd love to see what you think of it if you do pick it up though! :)

  6. I'm going to read this, but I agree with Rachel. I'm totally gonna ending up falling for these guys being together and then just lose it at the end. That makes me wonder why I want to read it, so I'm just going to focus on the positive. ;) The narrtion style sounds like something I'd be interested in, and the fact that this book seems to just swallow you whole sounds like it's written amazingly. Fabulous review, Keertana. :)

    1. I fell for these guys as well, Aa'Ishah and I don't know why I picked it up when I knew I'd be heartbroken, but I ultimately really enjoyed it. The narration style was definitely very unique and I'd loveee to see what you think of this one! :)

  7. Yay! I'm so glad you eventually loved this too, this does take some time getting into, but as you said afterwards you're totally invested! I so want to do that to Ed at the end too, but at the same time I don't :/ Lovely review hun!)

    1. Thanks Jasprit! I just want to smack Ed...I have strong feelings about what he did! >.< I really did enjoy this one though, so thank you for the wonderful book recommendation and review Jasprit!(:

  8. Wow, I don't think I've such a detailed and passionate review of this book! I've wanted to read it since late year but for some reason I just keep forgetting about this book. I think I will like the way it's written but like you I will probably be annoyed by the ending, it's almost a shame that we already know how it will end :/ Brill review, hun!

    1. Thanks Mandee! It is almost a shame that we know how it ends, but it actually adds to the novel surprisingly. I'd love to see what you think of this one though and the narration is so beautiful - I loved it! :)

  9. Oh dear.

    Keertana, dear friend, I saw your rating of 3.5 and thought I'll skip this one. I just saw it on somebodies Stacking the Shelves which was why I stopped when I saw the review from you. Since your reviews are so thorough and then I saw the author "Daniel Handler" which means nothing to me. Then I saw the "Lemony Snicket" part and decided to read your review. DAMN YOU!

    Now all I want to do is read this book. Even though it doesn't sound remotely happy I feel like I really need to read this book NOW and if I do, I fear I'm going to cry through it because that's the type of soppy person I am and these days it takes very little to make me cry. *sigh*

    However, I thought your review was incredibly insightful and you've really given me a good ground to this book and what it's about. I'll be skipping over to check Jasprit's review out not, since I must have skipped seeing that one...

    Great review! :)

    1. Thanks Olivia!(: I can't wait to see what you think of this one! I'm sure your review of it will be brilliant and while you might cry, it's worth it! I'm so glad I was able to introduce you to a new book now, so I'm thrilled! :D

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  15. Daniel Handler has nailed that crazy-amazing feeling of being a smartypants teenager in deep smit, despite all the signs (such as disapproving friends) that it's not the best match. I love the illustrations, I love the structure of the book, and I loved touching that delirious angsty part of my heart that I thought was faded away. How did he do it? This is a must-read.

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