Thursday, March 19, 2020

REVIEW: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Why We Broke Up

I'm telling you why we broke up, Ed. I'm writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened.

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.

I'm trying to make my way through the Printz award list so I decided to pick this book up. I've read mixed reviews on the books and it seems that most people either love it or hate it. I, for one, found it to be very disappointing.

Min and Ed were together, were being the keyword here. Fed up, Min writes a letter to Ed, detailing their relationship, and boxes up all of the items that remind her of their relationship. She'll drop the box on Ed's doorstep, and then she will be done.

This book seems more for people who are somewhat nostalgic for high school relationships rather than actual teenagers. I mainly get that from the praise on the book which is entirely just comments from authors about their own high school relationships, or reviews that claim this book "will remind you of your own heartbreak". I've never been in a relationship and never want to, so that aspect of the book completely disinterested me. The relationship in this book just annoyed me. I couldn't understand why Min was in this relationship in the first place. Yes, they're teenagers so logic isn't always there when it comes to relationships, but it just felt like a superficial relationship from the get-go. The conversations between Ed and Min just felt awkward rather than sweet or just fun.

The book is supposedly written like a letter from Min to Ed, but it never felt like a letter. It's in 2nd person, but we are supposed to believe that Min wrote over 300 pages on the way to Ed's house? And just happened to include dialogue as well? It just wasn't believable as a letter, which is disappointing because I was excited about that aspect. I thought the book was going to be a mix of files, a bunch of letters from their relationship bound together (Maybe I thought it was going to be like the Illuminae files but contemporary), but no that wasn't what it was. There were illustrations of objects from the relationship and the illustrations were great, but it did not add much to the story.

I switched between reading this in hardcover and listening to it on audio. I actually preferred the audio to the hardcover. It was much more theatrical at times and it also made the dialogue more interesting. The dialogue on page barely had any tags so it grew confusing when there were long conversations.

As far as characters, I did not like any of them. Ed is just not a great guy. He kind of fell under a lot of stereotypes, like the jock that is too obsessed with sports to care about anything else. We aren't really supposed to like Ed because this is a break-up letter and of course we are hearing Min's side, not Ed's. But I would've expected that he would have at least been likable in the beginning, but no. He's shown as a jerk. He makes a lot of homophobic comments. Everything that came out of his mouth was just cringy. I couldn't see why Min even liked him in the first place. I guess he was supposedly attractive? But his personality sure wasn't.

As for Min, we are supposed to like Min. We are supposed to feel sorry for her. But she really just annoyed me. I get that she's a teen, so she's bound to have flaws, but my biggest issue with her is that she claims that she has grown when she hasn't. She is "not like other girls" and that is clear from her attitude. She constantly gets called "different" and "arty" from people. She constantly references movies that no one else has heard of and she's a little quirky. Throughout the book, it was clear that she felt superior to her other classmates because she's not like them. She doesn't like sports and she doesn't like parties. Oh boy, isn't she different?! We do find out that she hates being called different because she feels average. She doesn't feel like she is anything more than a girl that likes movies BUT when she has this realization, she still puts others down. She still claims she's not like her classmates.

“And the truth is that I'm not, Ed, is what I wanted to tell you. I'm not arty like everyone says who doesn't know me, I don't paint, I can't draw, I play no instrument, I can't sing. I'm not in plays, I wanted to say, I don't write poems. I can't dance except tipsy at dances. I'm not athletic, I'm not a goth or a cheerleader, I'm not treasurer or co-captain. I'm not gay and out and proud, I'm not that kid from Sri Lanka, not a triplet, a prep, a drunk, a genius, a hippie, a Christian, a slut, not even one of those super-Jewish girls with a yarmulke gang wishing everyone a happy Sukkoth. I'm not anything, this is what I realized ... I like movies, everyone knows I do -- I love them -- but I will never be in charge of one because my ideas are stupid and wrong in my head. There's nothing different about that, nothing fascinating, interesting, worth looking at.”

Even though she claims she's not different and tells us her own self-doubts, she still groups everyone together based on their interests when she is telling us how much she hates being categorized! There's also the fact that the language she uses puts down others, like calling someone a slut. And the way she voices this is almost like she thinks that none of these people have any problems! Do you not think that the "gay and out and proud" teen has any self-doubts too, Min? All of these people have their own struggles and they shouldn't be categorized either! By the end of the book, it still felt like Min saw herself as better than her classmates.

Overall, this was a very disappointing read. The characters were just unlikeable and I just didn't care about anyone. I don't see why this is a Printz honor book. The only thing interesting was the artwork, but even the narrative style didn't work. Maybe the judges were just nostalgic for their own heartbreak. At Scorpio Races got a Printz Honor the same year. Now that book deserves it.

I hereby give this book
2 Stars
Meaning: It was okay

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