Whoa. Just, whoa. Reading Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket)‘s latest offering, a searing YA break up story, I feel like I have been transported back in time to my high school days*. Is there nothing the man can’t do? Handler is in top form here, completely inhabiting the head space of his smart, angry teenage female narrator, Min Green. There isn’t even the hintiest of hints of the author who brought snark and irony to contemporary children’s literature. His sharp words are well tempered by Maira Kalman’s bright illustrations of all the relationship relics Min has included with her epic break-up letter.
The book, while about love, is fueled with lots of rage. Min is smart, clueless, and completely heartbroken. Her narrative is breathless and feels like a cross between a diary rant and literary stream-of-conscious writing. The dialogue, as recalled by Min, is awkward and uncomfortable and is therefore spot on. Handler’s teenagers do not talk like the kids on Dawson’s Creek, or even the kids in a John Green novel, who are authentic, but loquacious. These kids say the wrong thing, stumble over their words, and are spot-on depictions of teenage awkwardness at it’s best (or worst?). The juxtaposition of such literary narration and banal dialogue was fascinating.
I loved Min’s friends, who throw theme parties such as a “Bitter Sixteen” party in which all the food is so bitter it is basically inedible. I loved Min’s mild hero-worship of Ed’s older film-student sister, with whom she huddles in the stands at Ed’s basketball games and learns to cook with in their warm, cosy kitchen. But the section that sticks with me the most is when Min takes issue with the fact that her ex-bf and his friends thing of her as different or special, and then lists all the insecurities and fears that she feels make her, in fact, embarrassingly average. This rant made me cringe, ache, and left me feeling raw.
My feeling is that people will have strong reactions to this book: you will love it or you will hate it, but it will definitely get under your skin and force you to feel something strong one way or the other. It has already received 5 starred reviews, but you can expect even more big things from Why We Broke Up: it deserves it.
After you’ve read it, check out these for fun:
Relationship Relics from Savvy Reader
Plus, check out Handler in action interviewing strangers about their break ups in Grand Central Station, naturally.
Why We Broke Up is available now from HarperCollins Canada.
*Not that I experienced the same kind of betrayal as narrator Min Green does, but you don’t have to have had the same experiences to relate to the rush of feelings she goes through.