Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up. Min has written a letter explaining why. She's delivering it with a box that's full of the debris of their relationship: two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, Ed's protractor, some sugar they stole, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings and the rest of it. Each item is illustrated and accounted for; each memory played out until the heartbreaking end. Min will dump the box on Ed's porch - but it is Ed who is being dumped. This is the story of why they broke up.

Did you know that Daniel Handler is Lemony Snicket? Daniel Handler who wrote The Basic Eight which is about teenagers but is not really a YA novel, but was filed in the YA section at my local library back in Victoria, and I started reading YA when I was about nine, so I read the Basic Eight when I probably shouldn't have? It's about murder, you guys. It really freaked me out. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole 13 and three quarters or whatever it's called, that freaked me out, too. I was incensed! Incensed! By the amount of kissing. I would have been about ten but I was a would-be book-banner. I appreciated books with content warning labels at that age (I would perhaps like these labels now, too. I wish I hadn't read that Bret Easton Ellis novel, for one. Less Than Zero should feature a sticker that says 'unbearably stupid'). I wanted to read advanced words but not advanced subject matter, because I was an odd child (I am now an odd adult-child hybrid).

I won't judge Daniel Handler on The Basic Eight because if I read it today it would probably be a good novel. It has all the weirdness that I love now, like split personalities. Daniel Handler also plays the accordion for the Magnetic Fields, which is a band I sort of like, so good on him (tell me if this is incorrect, I'm sure I read it somewhere). I think he's friends with Neil Gaiman. There's all these famous authors that are just casually friends with other famous authors and they all just have a grand old time, I bet. I'm not casually friends with anyone famous, probably because I'm not famous myself, or casual, really.

This book, you guys, was great. The writing reminded me of Simmone Howell's, a bit, the use of adjectives especially ('beautiful amazing'), and also a little bit of David Levithan's writing though I can't tell you how. Though it's written in an entirely unique fashion, it was maybe a little too heavy on the American high school formulaic characters - edgy weirdo drama kids, skinny beautiful girlfriends of sports stars, dumb bogan sports stars - and it was maybe a little too I know what's going to happen next but of course, it's called Why We Broke Up so you know how it ends before it starts.

The pictures are gorgeous and perfect, and it's just a lovely book aesthetically. There should be more novels with drawings in them, don't you think? And I so love novels that are written as letters, a bit of second person is always a nice thing. I didn't exactly like Min (Min, I know what's going on. I know what's going on 150 pages before you do, figure it out already!), and I didn't exactly like Ed, but the writing more than made up for it. It wasn't especially plot-driven - I'm saying a lot of negative things about it, aren't I? But I actually really liked it, and I wish I could write like that. It just flowed well, like someone might really speak or write a letter, all a tumble of thought and emotion, but then also I wanted to remember exact phrases and copy them down every five seconds. So it's both easy to read and gorgeous written, genuine and raw and great. I overuse the word raw but it's a good word. How about something like 'vulnerable' instead? I suppose it's a contemp YA, but I don't know if it's technically a YA at all (The Basic Eight wasn't! Bad shelving, shelvers!). I can't think of another YA to compare it to, not exactly, and now this review is getting too long. It's sort of literary, I suppose, and the dialogue is uncomfortably believable. I read it all in one go, it's that sort of book, and I'm a restless reader lately so that's saying something.
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