- Craig Graziano
Why We Broke Up is by Daniel Handler and features art by Maira Kalman, and both elements elevate it above your average high school romance novel.
Min has just left a box on Ed's doorstep. The box contains the pieces of evidence of their brief relationship, as well as letters explaining each piece's importance.
The very fact that Min and Ed went out is unusual. She loves old movies and is constantly battling the label of being "arty." Ed is athletic and usually travels with a more popular crowd, but there is something different about him. He is more introspective, more willing to accept people's differences.
And so the two try to make a go at it. Unfortunately, adolescence is constantly fraught with distraction and peril. Handler uses stream of consciousness adeptly to mimic the sheer intensity of high school life, such as when Min sums up an average schoolday.
"Because the day, it was school. It was the bells too loud or rattly in broken speakers that would never get fixed. It was the bad floors squeaky and footprinted, and the bang of lockers. It was writing my name in the upper-right-hand corner of the paper or Mr. Nelson would automatically deduct five points, and in the upper left-hand-corner of the paper or Mr. Peter would deduct three. It was the pen just giving up midway and scratching invisible ink scars on the paper or suiciding to leak on my hand, and trying to remember if I'd touch my face recently and I am a ballpoint coal miner on my cheeks and chin..."
Min continues at an electric pace. Meanwhile Kalman's contributions are handpainted images of the box's contents. A movie ticket, bottlecaps, a device that makes a square egg, all of which have been returned on Ed's doorstep in an attempt to negate what transpired between them. With bold shapes and slightly askew attempts at the photo-realistic, few artists rival her ability to add emotional weight to images.
Min is a strong, savvy female character with authentic thoughts and feelings. Without going into too much detail, I wish that the doomed relationship had ended in a less typical fashion as it does Min a disservice. At the same time, failed romances are the life lessons that shape and solidify our senses of self. I am so glad that Mr. Handler and Ms. Kalman have so passionately articulated how it feels to be young, in love...and then out.