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Why I Loved ‘Why We Broke Up’

Why We Broke UpThis past New Year’s Eve, my dear friend and fellow YA author Corey Ann Haydu said she had a “must read” book for me. She’d read it over the holidays and had fallen completely in love and knew I would feel the same. The book was Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, with illustrations by Maira Kalman.

The first thing I noticed when Corey handed me the book was how heavy it was. In a good way. It’s a beautiful hardcover, with thick, glossy pages and stunning illustrations that add both vibrancy and a sweet melancholy to the book — the overall effect is to create a complete reading experience. Don’t read this book on an eReader — you’ll miss out.

The story is simple — Min is breaking up with Ed. She has a box filled with “treasures” from their time together, and she’s on her way to his house to give it all back. Each item has a letter attached to it, and we learn through these letters written from Min to Ed the significance each object held in their relationship, and the part they played in the relationship’s ultimate demise. It’s a quiet book, written in an extremely compelling voice, and it just has just an aura around it. I kinda wished I could crawl inside and live in it for a while.

It’s incredibly difficult to pull off what Handler (who also writes kid lit under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket) has done here. You know how the story ends before it even starts, the whole thing is told in letters (à la Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower — the only other epistolary novel I’ve seen pulled off so well), Min is obsessed with old Hollywood movies and actors no one has ever heard of before (because they were made up by Handler for the sake of the novel), and the voice is highly stylized (Handler must have had zillions of little green squiggles under his words as he wrote). Even just one of those things is hard to get a reader to go along with, and Handler somehow manages them all at once.

You know how I know I really loved this book? I didn’t want it to end. So if you’re looking for a quick contemporary read, something different than everything else out there, check out Why We Broke Up. It’s wonderful.

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