Why We Broke Up is a so-called “young adult” novel written by Daniel Handler. If you don’t recognize the name Daniel Handler perhaps his pseudonym Lemony Snicket will ring a bell. Yep, he’s that guy: the author of the Series of Unfortunate Events, which features the three Baudelaire orphans. With a famous series like that, you can’t expect this guy to publish some happy-go-lucky story, right? That’s why it came as no surprise when Mr. Handler brought us Why We Broke Up.
Why We Broke Up tells the story of Min Green and Ed Slaterton, who are breaking up. Because of the breakup, Min is giving Ed a written letter and box that contains items that relate to their relationship. The list of items includes (according to Amazon) “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 many other items collected over the course of their relationship — which involved, among other things, meeting at a party, seeing a movie, following an old woman, sharing a hotel room, and, of course, breaking each other’s hearts. Each item, infused with memories, is illustrated within the novel. After all of the items are accounted for, the box can be “dumped, like a girlfriend”. It’s a bittersweet story with a predictable ending, but a remarkable journey.
Handler and illustrator Maira Kalman make a fabulous team. Handler masterfully takes on the voice of this teenage girl who is reeling from her first heartbreak. Kalman provides the beautifully produced pictures of the items. A reader can tell that the emotions behind some of the stories within the novel aren’t fictional at all. The novel is written in such a way that anyone who has had a break-up (which is pretty much anyone) can relate to it. In fact, Why We Broke Up should lose its young adult label and be marketed to the general dating public.
The Why We Broke Up Project is a Tumblr page created as an extension to the novel. Kalman and Handler figured that the fact that they delved into their painful stories of heartbreak meant that creating a space for the rest of us to share our own stories was only fair. The emotions that this Web site conjures up probably depend on the reader’s experience with breakups. I can see how posting on this thread could give someone a feeling of closure; I support what Kalman and Handler have created.