Friday, 18 May 2012

Review: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, Maira Kalman
Author: Daniel Handler
Illustrator: Maira Kalman
Publication Date: December 27th 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 354
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
Source: Borrowed from the Library

Book Description:
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.


Daniel Handler (also known as Lemony Snicket) wrote my childhood favourite read “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. So when I found out that Daniel Handler was actually Lemony Snicket, I figured I’d give this book a shot. It was unique in that it was a YA book with illustrations, but it felt like I should be doing a read a long with a teacher holding up the book so all the students could see the illustrations between each page.

The cover features a teacup falling and the moment is captured with the teacup in mid-air, which is a perfect intro because this is the story of a relationship as the readers look back to what brought us to the defining moment when the teacup smashes and the relationship ends.

This whole book unfortunately reads like one giant teen movie cliché. We’re first introduced to Min (Minerva) Green who is the embodiment of a member of the outcast artsy (no matter how much she says she isn’t artsy, she freaking is, especially with her obsession with “classic” movies) group, independent and a somewhat naive girl. Then we meet her friend Al who is the utterly perfect but unappreciated best male friend. Then there’s Ed, who is the classic homophobic jock “player” who might as well get tested for STI’s as a hobby.

So artsy girl and jock date, she sacrifices things to be with him, he tries to change to fit in with her, they both alienate themselves from their social groups, everyone tells them it won’t work, they try to ignore everyone and declare their love for each other, but instead of a love overcomes all happy ending, we get a flaming pile of heartbroken teen angst that you could see coming a mile away. If you think I ruined the book for you, I really didn’t. Seriously, if you’ve ever seen a teen movie for example “She’s All That”, this book reminds me of that movie.

If you haven’t guessed already, I didn’t enjoy the book. It was predictable, and whenever Ed opened his big jerkish mouth, or Min made a really clingy girlfriend move I would inwardly groan and tell myself “I CAN SEE WHY YOU BROKE UP!!”. All the references to fictional old time black and white “classic” films were cute and clever at first, but after a while I just didn’t want to go on anymore - this also reinforced my aversion to watching real old “classic” films even more.

I considered not finishing it, so I started skimming, and then my eye would catch on a really really interesting picture and I would want to find out more about it, which led to me reading it. Before I knew it I had read through the whole thing. So I will give credit to Maira Kalman for doing a brilliant job illustrating this book! It was the saving grace!

Each “chapter” if you will, is separated by an illustration of an item and the anecdotal story behind it, which made it easy to start and stop between chapters for a light quick read. I have to admit though, there were some genuinely great moments between Ed and Min, where Ed was this whole different and more sensitive guy and the main reason why they broke up and how it was revealed was pretty epic! 

However, if I was Ed (and knowing the type of guy Ed is) and my ex wrote a 300+ page “letter” chronicling the difficulties of our relationship, and then threw a box of junk on my doorstep I’d probably skip reading said letter (it’d end up in the trash or as fire kindling) and then proceed to laugh because I’m a jerk like that. 

Overall: 2/5 Two Tepid Cups of Tea.
The whole story was a giant teen cliche, Min became increasingly irritating but the illustrations were very well done.

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