Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and art by Maira Kalman

I read this as an ARC courtesy of Little, Brown and Company and the amazing bookstore I work in. It did already come out. And the only reason I’m mentioning the ARC is because I didn’t get the full artwork that I know is in the finished copy. I was missing a lot of the art, though I know the pages that the art belongs on (and what’s meant to be on the pages). And the art that was in the ARC was in black and white. So, I didn’t get the full color effect.
Author and artist will be at my bookstore tonight though, so I’m thinking that I might have to buy a finished, signed version.
Any way, the book is about Min explaining to Ed the reasons for why they broke up. She writes him a series of letters that mention all the things in the box she is returning to him. The artwork is about all the objects in the box. Amongst all the explanations for the objects, Min goes over various points in the relationship, like when they first meet, or when her friends first get to hang out with him, when she decides to lose her virginity to him, etc.
And the more you read about Min, the more you have to like her. She’s smart, witty, sarcastic, a film genius, adventurous, confident, so willing to love and be loved in return, and she really doesn’t care as much as everyone else does about what people think of her. I never really liked Ed. Granted, you know from the very beginning that they break up, and it became an almost game to find all the things wrong with him, and even to try to decipher all the times Min explains, “This is why we broke up.”
I loved the idea of this book! I loved the little bits of art I did get to see, and how each moment was connected to an object. I loved that it felt almost like a collection of short stories that were combined. And it also felt like one of those more realistic romance movies (like 500 Days of Summer). The concept was 100% unique. The artwork was gorgeous, yet also a little juvenile in a good way, adding to the YA feel. And it’s clear from the first page of somewhat stream of consciousness teen angst that Handler can write very well. Some of the dialogue is just plain genius, really.
However, there was this large, ever-present disconnect for me. I loved Min; I really did. It’s just she spoke like someone who grew up in the 1920’s, was so intelligent, and so wise beyond her years. And in a way this makes sense because she loved the movies from that generation. Yet, it was so hard for me to see this wise teenager making all these poor decisions about Ed, and then also even making a box of items like this. I can see some of my friends arguing about how smart women can make the dumbest decisions when it comes to guys. And this is true. We can all make mistakes when it comes to love. Believe me, I know. But, when we’re as wise and intelligent as Min, we second-guess more. And to an extent we know while things are happening that they are kind of bad decisions.
Min is oblivious to all her bad decisions! And I just found this so out of character for how she’s portrayed in all other situations. She should have been second-guessing so many things, and thinking more things out. I’m not saying she never should have hooked up with Ed; I’m saying she should have hooked up with him, but still known to an extent how stupid this was. I’m not even feeling the box thing for her. So maybe what I’m saying is that for me to really believe that Min could not know how awful Ed was, and to even blame their break up on things like moments and objects, when the real reason is one big, bad awful thing he did, she shouldn’t have been so wise. All the moments she goes over the relationship are so right, so dead on and beautiful in her understanding that it was hard for me to understand how this is the same girl. Maybe, if she wrote the letters years later and had more than a week to think about her mistakes it would be more believable for me.
Also, sometimes Min’s movie talk got a little tiring (especially considering how all the movies were made up). Were the publishers afraid of copyright infringement? I feel like real old movies and actors would have been better, and maybe even would have educated some young adults about film. Why make something up when there is so much out there waiting to be learned?
I have great respect for Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket, for his children’s literature. And I definitely have even more respect for him now. He was brave to try something different. And his dialogue was just so dead-on. I just wish that Min was more real to me as a character, or that maybe she became so wise a little later in life. I give this one a 7/10.

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