Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

One of the funniest interviews I’ve ever heard is with Daniel Handler on CBC’s radio show Q. I think he was there to talk a little bit about his children’s picture 13 Words with Maira Kalman, his musical involvement with the Magnetic Fields, and a little bit about The Series of Unfortunate Events that he wrote under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. But mostly the interview was just Daniel Handler making hilarious comments about pop culture and recent news. It was a great interview, and in it he also happened to mention Why We Broke Up, a young adult novel that he wrote and Maira Kalman (of The Principles of Uncertainty) illustrated, which just came out a few weeks ago.

Why We Broke Up tells the story of just why, exactly, Min Green broke up with Ed Slaterton. The reasons why are woven in with Kalman’s illustrations, her representations of the objects Min leaves in a box and drops off at Ed’s house, each of which helps to tell the story that Handler writes. Some of these illustrations include a ticket stub to an old-fashioned movie, a protractor, and two bottle caps.

Min narrates the story of her relationship with Ed, a second-person narration where Ed, the recipient of this letter/novel, is present. Her narration is poignant and conversational:

“You didn’t know I never go to my locker until after first. You never really learned my schedule, Ed. It is a mystery, Ed, how you never knew how to find me but always found me anyway, because our paths tug-of-warred away from each other for the whole loud and tedious stretch of school, the mornings with me hanging out with Al and usually Jordan and Lauren on the right-side benches while you shot warm-up hoops on the back courts with your backpack waiting with the others and skateboards and sweatshirts in a bored heap, not a single class in common, your Early Lunch trash-dunking your apple core like it’s part of the same game, my Late Lunch on the weird corner of the lawn, hemmed in by the preppies and the hippies bickering over the airwaves with competing sound tracks except on hot days, when they truce it with reggae.”

This book is filled with large moments and small ones, all of those that are deemed necessary by Min to tell the story of a high school relationship. The pairing of words and illustrations makes the story tactile and meaningful, and brings another dimension into the end of a relationship. The circular story – Min dropping off a box on Ed’s front steps and proclaiming their relationship over, to the beginning, middle, and eventual end of the relationship, where the novel starts – works perfectly, and Min Green’s voice will stay in your head a long time after finishing this novel. 

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