Morgan: And Morgan, also from Main-Teen.
Joseph: We’re here to talk about the book “Why We Broke Up,” a Printz honor book and one that was named to a number of best of 2011 lists. Morgan, can you start us off with a brief summary?
Morgan: Sure, “Why We Broke Up” is a novel told in words and pictures in which Min Green details the events of her whirlwind high school romance with basketball star Ed Slaterton after all the dust has settled.
It’s written as a letter to Ed, explaining to him, basically, why they broke up.
Do you have anything to add, Joseph?
Joseph: No, except that the author, Daniel Handler might be familiar to readers by a different name.
Morgan: Ah, yes, Lemony Snicket, of A Series of Unfortunate Events fame.
Joseph: Yes, and anybody who wants to see him in action, promoting the book, can go to the link: http://shelf-life.ew.com/2011/12/09/why-we-broke-up-daniel-handler-trailer/ to see him interviewing people in Grand Central Station in NYC about their own tales of heartache and woe.
But the reason we’re here chatting about it is because we both had two different opinions of the book.
I, for example, didn’t much care for it.
Morgan: While, I, immediately after reading, absolutely loved it. My feelings, now compared to my 2am feelings when I put the book down, have cooled slightly. But I still think it’s a really great book.
Joseph: You finished at 2AM? You must have found it really gripping. What pulled you in so much?
Morgan: I think it was the very stream of consciousness, fast-paced writing style in which Min’s letter to Ed is written. It was easy to read and really easy to just keep going, especially with the central mystery of what exactly happens to cause them to break up. Obviously, you know it’s coming and you see it coming, but reading that book is pretty much like watching a slow-motion car crash.
Joseph: I think it’s really interesting that the fast pace of the writing really pulled you in and kept you in. I felt the same way through the first 50 pages, and really liked the way the main character would go back and correct her own details on occasion. It was a refreshing take on a first-person perspective book.
Morgan: I agree!
Joseph: Normally, the voice is so polished and gets everything “so right” that you can’t believe it at all.
Morgan: Did that feeling not stay with you for the rest of the book?
Joseph: After a while, I started glossing over passages in the text, because it seemed like it was trying to do SO MUCH and seemed to get really heavy trying to carry the momentum all the way through, sentence by sentence, without ever really giving me a moment to come up for air.
Morgan: Hmm. I can see that. I think additionally what kept me going through the book was my determination just to keep reading, from other circumstances outside the book itself. I did almost put it down several times, so I can see how later it would be harder to keep going.
It is also very emotionally wrenching, and I happened to be in the mood for that.
Joseph: Ha ha. I can understand that. For some reason, I have an aversion to books in which the main character seems to helplessly make stupid decisions and alienates themselves. I think it is the innate part of me that always wants to reach out and help somebody, and I can’t do that with a character whose story is already written.
Morgan: Aww. So I gather that you couldn’t condone Min’s decision to date someone who was so categorically wrong for her?
Joseph: That’s a complicated question.
One of my pet peeves involves when people don’t like books or other forms of creative expression just because they disagree with what the characters do.
So it’s not that, exactly.
I think it was a combination that it was set up with so much emotional gravity, but I couldn’t UNDERSTAND it.
I feel like I got a slight taste toward the end, but it begins right away with Ed crashing Min’s friend’s party and suddenly she is smitten.
There’s no real context for it, for the longest time.
Her friends didn’t seem to understand it either!
Morgan: Well, I have to say, I feel like I completely understand where Min is coming from with her interest in Ed.
But this is also a personal experience thing.
There’s something really alluring, I suppose, about the most popular guy in school. And frankly, I’m surprised Handler picked up on this phenomenon as a writer who has never been a not-so-popular teenage girl.
I think Ed’s interest in Min at first is what makes her interested.
Joseph: You know, I never picked up on that.
As somebody who is in her own head so much of the time, and likes to mythologize her own experience through the lens of older, often more romantic movies, I can see how she would really magnify any small gesture of affection her way.
Morgan: She wouldn’t have given him a second thought if he hadn’t seemed so interested in talking to her. His interest in her sort of validates her as a person. She is someone who knows that she’s interesting and it’s sort of obvious no one whose opinion matters to other people has ever told her that in such an outright way.
So, even though she doesn’t realize it, Min wants to date Ed because he’s sort of psychologically validating her as a person.
At least, in my opinion.
Additionally, I think that’s what makes the ultimate break up so crushing for Min, especially in the way that it happens, because everything she thought Ed’s interest and love was telling her about herself is now negated.
Joseph: That makes a lot of sense, actually.
And speaking of Ed’s interest in her, that was another thing that did really intrigue me through the beginning stages of the book.
She’s almost like his own manic pixie dream girl (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ManicPixieDreamGirl), but the book is actually from her perspective, and not his.
Joseph: So you never get the very depersonalized, idealized version of Min that you might have gotten if the book was from Ed’s perspective.
Morgan: That’s very true, and also very refreshing.
Joseph: Min was Ed’s “Alaska,” to borrow the John Green character. He was bored, and she was there as a convenient distraction from what was boring him.
Morgan: Exactly, you can tell that’s how he sees her from the way he talks about, how he can’t really articulate what is is about her he likes.
Joseph: No way, Morgan. He constantly articulates what he likes… she’s “different” (gags).
Morgan: LOL, of course.
Morgan: Another thing I enjoyed about the book was how well drawn the secondary characters were, and how fleshed out the alternate Hollywood world that Min loves so much is, with just the passing references Handler provides.
Joseph: I agree about that as well. You learn so much about Min’s friends and Ed’s exes just from how they respond to their relationship.
Morgan: Yes, particularly his sister, but not until it’s too late, I think.
Joseph: Al seems to be such a well-drawn character as well, even in his Bartleby-like “I have no opinion” response to Ed, which should ultimately resonate with a lot of readers and help foretell one of the surprises toward the end.
Ed’s sister is very curious. She seems drawn equally between wanting to protect Min from Ed and her loyalty to him.
Morgan: I agree. I think that she was secretly hoping things would go better, but ultimately knew her brother well enough to realize how it would go down and try to prepare Min.
Joseph: Morgan, I hate to admit it, but you’ve done a really good job of helping me realize how much I actually appreciated the book.
Morgan: LOL, awesome! I’m so glad.
Did you have any other problems with it that I could help to clear up?
Joseph: No, but I will say to any readers, that if you don’t want a book that you need to simply take for the breathless ride and heartbreaking emotional lessons therein, you should probably avoid this one.
The characters choices may never make absolute sense to you, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valid, or that you can’t sympathize with the very real emotional turmoil they’re going through. It is a pretty heavy book.
I will admit, I may have cried a few tears. 😉
Joseph: Aw, Morgan. Luckily, I have a heart of stone. And with that, goodnight!
For those of you who can’t get enough of heartwrenching, sad books of relationships gone wrong (and who among you can’t?), check out the Main-Teen Department’s booklist of Why We Broke Up readalikes below!
How to Say Goodbye in Robot
After moving to Baltimore and enrolling in a private school, high school senior Beatrice befriends a quiet loner with a troubled family history.
Steplings: A Novel
When Jason’s girlfriend Lisa sends him a “Dear John” letter from the University of Texas, he travels to Austin to show her he’s worthy of her love. To complicate matters, Jason’s new stepsister Emily insists on coming with him to return to her father, a UT professor.
Cohn, Rachel & David Levithan
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
High school student Nick O’Leary, member of a rock band, meets college-bound Norah Silverberg and asks her to be his girlfriend for five minutes in order to avoid his ex-sweetheart.
Anthony, Jessica & Rodrigo Corral
Told entirely with images, this is the story of Glory, a piano prodigy. Brilliant and lonely, Glory falls in love with Frank, who moves in next door, and is soon unable to play anything but the song “Chopsticks.”
The Sky is Everywhere
In the months after her sister dies, seventeen-year-old Lennie falls into a love triangle and discovers the strength to follow her dream of becoming a musician.
Smith, Jennifer E.
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Hadley and Oliver fall in love on the flight from New York to London, but after a cinematic kiss they lose track of each other at the airport until fate brings them back together on a very momentous day.
Culbertson, Kim A.
Instructions for a Broken Heart
While on a school trip to Italy, Jessa opens one envelope a day from her best friend’s care package and finds instructions designed to help her get over her recent breakup with her boyfriend.
Stay with Me
Fifteen-year-olds Mack, a high school drop-out but a genius with dogs, and Cece, who hopes to use her intelligence to avoid a life like her mother’s, meet and fall in love at the restaurant where they both work, but when Mack lands in prison he pushes Cece away and only a one-eared pit-bull can keep them together.
Courtney must drive across country to attend college orientation with her ex-boyfriend while still fuming that he dumped her for a girl he met online, but the two of them learn valuable lessons about themselves and each other along the way.
Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend
Belle is a high school junior who expects to marry her long-term boyfriend one day, until he tells her and their entire small Maine town that he is gay. In the aftermath of his announcement, both face prejudice and violence even as they enter new relationships and try to remain friends.
(500) days of Summer
For Tom, it was love at first sight when Summer Finn walked into the company where he worked. Although Summer does not believe in boyfriends, Tom and Summer become more than just friends. Through the trials and tribulations of Tom and Summer’s relationship, Tom could always count on the advice of his two best friends, McKenzie and Paul. However, it’s Rachel, Tom’s adolescent sister, who is his voice of reason.