Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why We Broke Up (Daniel Handler)

Why We Broke Up is a book that I have thought about reading over and over--as soon as it came out, I was drawn in both by the author (I had never read something of his not written under a pseudonym) and the concept: the novel is a catalog of all the things held special in a relationship, explained one-by-one. It's the sort of book 16-year-old me would have bought and devoured immediately. I continually put it off (even after it won a Printz Honor!) because I saw a lot of lukewarm reviews

And then I took the plunge anyway. Min is 16 and basically a misfit--she loves classic films and thrift stores and genuinely doesn't understand or like basketball. But for some reason, Ed, the king jock, has begun to pursue Min...and she likes it. Their romance is whirlwind in the way that 16 year olds do, but we know even before we start the book that it's going to fall apart, so we buckle in and we watch.

I wasn't really a fan of Why We Broke Up. The most pressing issue with the book is just how annoying Min is; she constantly references classic movies, films that are not real, which frustrates me so much--there's no way we can possibly catch allusions to things that don't exist, so why bother? I might have been into the technique if I could watch the movies she's talking about, but no such luck. She's quirky and different but hates when people tell her so. Min loves coffee and she needs it and she loves this one out-of-the-way store that's only open one day a week in the early morning for a little bit.

What I mean is this: Handler has done such a good job writing in the voice of a high school hipster that it was as annoying as the real thing. Just like I wouldn't be able to be around someone like Min in my real life, I didn't want to be around her. So it's praise but also a problem. In the opposite direction, however, is Ed, who doesn't feel nearly so well-made. He's annoying to read about, but mostly because he doesn't seem to be more than a parody of a collection of stereotypes: he likes sports, he's dumb, he doesn't talk to girls who are smart, he's in it for sex. There's not much to work with in Ed.

As for the narrative gimmick...it gets old. There are a lot of items and quite a few very short stories that go with them. I would have liked to have seen "top ten things from our relationship and why" or something, because the vignette feel of so many objects is tiresome. There's a rubber band that Min uses in her hair, for example, and it's a tiny episode that I didn't want to read about. The strangest thing, however, is that the book doesn't need its crutch--if the book were just a straightforward narrative, it would function exactly the same way (and perhaps might have been a little less annoying).

So how do I sum this up? Why We Broke Up is a book that gets everything right about that time in your teenage years where you look back now and want to smack yourself for being so annoying, and it's not necessarily a pleasant experience. It relies heavily on a technique that wears thin rather quickly. But if you're 16, maybe you'll think it's the greatest thing. I don't know.

My rating: 3/5
Why We Broke Up on Goodreads
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