Daniel Handler

Why We Broke Up

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Why We Broke Up Summary

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Why We Broke Up (2011), a coming-of-age novel written by American author Daniel Handler and illustrated by Israeli illustrator and designer Maira Kalman, chronicles the five-week relationship between teenager Min Green and her high-school basketball star boyfriend, Ed Slaterton. The story takes the form of a letter written by Min to Ed explaining why they broke up and is accompanied by a box full of minor objects that played a significant role in their relationship, ranging from bottle caps to a box of matches to a concert ticket. The letter explains the purpose of each object and then narrating the rise and downfall of the relationship. Exploring themes of friendship, love, infatuation, lies, regret, identity, and the way life imitates art, Why We Broke Up was critically acclaimed as a genuine, honest take on adolescent love and a welcome departure from Handler’s past work, which was geared towards younger readers. It received a Michael L. Printz Honor from the American Library Association, and was optioned for a feature film, which is currently in development. It was given an unconventional promotional campaign on Tumblr, where people were encouraged to submit their own break-up stories.

As Why We Broke Up begins, Min Green is writing a letter to her ex-boyfriend, Ed Slaterton, explaining the reasons they broke up. Their five-week relationship was intensely passionate but short-lived, and Min kept every item that meant something to her from that period, hiding them in her closet to keep her mother from spying on her and asking her about the relationship. However, now that it has been awhile since the end of their relationship, Min is ready to get rid of the box of items and return them to Ed. She is accompanying the box of items with a letter, in which she goes item by item and tells him what they meant to her, as well as how they played a role in the beginning or end of their relationship. She has realized that she and Ed are very different people—she, a studious high school junior; he, a popular senior basketball star who is already looking ahead to college—and that they should never have been together at all.

She is being taken to Ed’s house by her best friend, Al. Her relationship with Al suffered while she and Ed were dating, but now they are as close as ever, and he is supporting her while she sheds her baggage. She first met Ed at Al’s “Bitter Sixteen” party, where she got the bottle caps—from the first beers she and Ed ever drank together.

The breakup box continues with a movie ticket from their first date; a vintage poster from the movie theater that Ed stole for her; a matchbox from the restaurant they went to after the movie; a pinhole camera he bought for her (while mocking her interest in old movies); a note that Ed left for Min, telling her she was crazy about him. There is also a torn Halloween poster that Al put up—and Ed tore down to write his number for Min. Other items include a coin, a rubber band, a pennant, a toy truck, and a seedpod. Many of these items show incidents that seemed romantic to Min in the moment, but now remind her of how they were always a world apart and that Ed never had much concern for her interests or her feelings. Ed would help Min with her interests, such as searching for an old film star that Min was obsessed with, but always seemed to view her interests with disinterest or even mockery.

Min realizes she was in love with the idea of Ed, not him, and regrets that her involvement with him led her to neglect her relationship with Al. She and Al got into a lot of fights, and Min realizes now that this was partially because he was in love with her as well. She and Ed eventually break up when she finds out that he was casually sleeping with his friend Annette as well. He thinks nothing of it, viewing their relationship far more casually than she did. The book ends with Al helping Min drop off the breakup box at Ed’s doorstep. They drive off together, friends again, and although she is far from ready to get involved in another relationship, she is starting to realize that true love can sneak up on you when you least expect it.

Daniel Handler is an American writer, musician, and journalist. He is best known by his pen name Lemony Snicket, under which he wrote the blockbuster series A Series of Unfortunate Events, which ran for thirteen volumes along with a four-book prequel titled All the Wrong Questions, and was adapted into both a major motion picture starring Jim Carrey and a critically acclaimed Netflix series starring Neil Patrick Harris. He is also the author of seven novels for teens and adults under his actual name.

Maira Kalman is an Israeli-born illustrator, writer, artist, and designer who has published twenty-two works, including children’s books, picture books, and nonfiction works relating to fashion and food. The winner of the 2017 AIGA Medal, she has exhibited her works around the United States.