Daniel Handler: Why We Broke Up – review

whywebrokeupAuthor: Daniel Handler
Publish Date: 2011
Genre: Romance, realism
Audience: Young adult

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I was lent this book by my friend Lois, after she had gotten back into reading and was enjoying similar books to me. I had never heard of this book before, but Lois rated it extremely highly; the illustrations also caught my attention and so I was suitably intrigued to read. Only later did I discover Daniel Handler is the author of the widely acclaimed ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’!

‘Why We Broke Up’ is the sort of novel which you have to read in one or two goes. It depicts the whirlwind relationship of Min and Ed, told in the form of a letter from Min to Ed after they have broken up. Throughout, the relationship is pinpointed through certain objects Min has kept as memories, which are all beautifully illustrated by Maira Kalman. Not only are the illustrations stunning, but they add a wonderful depth to the story, making it a much more real experience for the reader. The form of a letter also means that Min has the tragic blessing of hindsight, and so whilst the details of their relationship have the heart-warming qualities of young love, they are tinged with a feeling of regret and sadness.

The feeling that these beautiful illustrations create combines perfectly with the poetic style of the writing. Every passage is stunning, with vivid metaphors and stupendous descriptions of love, making the novel seem like a huge poem. Due to it being a letter, there are several instances of a stream-of-consciousness style and I admit that this may not to be to everybody’s taste; I found it a little hard to adjust to at first, but by the end I ADORED it. It really helped to give an insight into Min as a character, and she was both extremely connectable and likeable unlike some of the other characters. In contrast to the poetic writing, Handler writes the dialogue as exceptionally realistic and it is hard to believe that this is not a true story – after I had finished I felt like I had just gone through a break-up!

Whilst ‘Why We Broke Up’ resonates with me as a work of art, I wasn’t quite willing to give it five stars. I think this was mainly because I couldn’t relate to the situation as a whole – I have never been in a long-term relationship and thus I have never been through a break-up, let alone one as angst-filled as this. I feel like this shouldn’t impact my rating of the book as a whole, but because of this fact, I have doubted whether the story will be one which will stay with me for a long time. It is told in an extraordinarily unique and expressive way, but the concept of a break-up is certainly not alien to the young adult world. Only time will tell!

‘Why We Broke Up’ is a wonderful yet heart-breaking read. It will overwhelm you with emotion, leaving you angry and downcast at the harsh reality life can often bring, and yet feeling suitably content as the story concludes comfortably. Most of all, it turns a typical YA topic into a stunning piece of art – for me, ‘Why We Broke Up’ is really what literature is all about.

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