Sometimes I feel that I have the emotional maturity of someone in high school. I also tend to handle break-ups badly. I don't yell or stalk or anything, but I take it hard and I take it hard for quite awhile--still pining long after my friends think I should have gotten over whoever it is who last broke my heart. So, when I heard about the young adult book, Why We Broke Up (2011) by Daniel Handler with illustrations by Maira Kalman, I figured it was right up my alley.
And for the most part I was right. Min and Ed--the star-crossed lovers of this story--were well-drawn and relatable characters: believable teenagers in a believable whirlwind romantic relationship. The emotions felt real and the story was interesting. You know from the title that it's going to end badly, but you read through to discover the why and how of it all.
At times, the book felt a little gimmicky, although I haven't decided if that was good or bad. Instead of a normal book, the pages were heavy and glossy, with drawings of elements from the story at the beginning of each chapter. In addition, Min was a fanatic of old movies. Every other thought of hers compared her life to a movie she had seen. I liked how this detail made Min a much more unique character, but I also found it distracting. The movie descriptions sometimes lent a visual understanding to what was happening in the book if it was a scene or movie trope I knew. However, most often I had no idea what movie or image Min was invoking, so it felt more that I was reading through another language to get back to the plot. There were also a couple frustrating instances where Handler has Min find or grab something, but he doesn't say what it is until the next chapter, which, of course, has the corresponding picture. I had to re-read a couple paragraphs and then skip ahead to understand what was happening. But these are all minor points in a book that was original and emotionally true.
Min had her heart broken in an especially bad way: her first lover and he was cheating on her. I definitely felt for her character. Yet fiction continues to be more hopeful than reality. Min had someone who happened to be perfect for her and who had already declared his love for her waiting in the background. If only real life were that simple.
And to end this review, here's part of Min's emotional collapse when everything falls apart. I thought it grabbed the feelings when you lose the person who has become part of how you define yourself.
"I'm not different, not at all, not different from any other speck of a thing. I'm a blemished blemish, a ruined ruin. a stained wreck so failed I can't see what I used to be. I'm nothing, not a single thing. The only particle I had, the only tiny thing raising me up, is that I was Ed Slaterton's girlfriend, loved by you for like ten secs, and who cares, so what, and not anymore so how embarrassing for me." (337)