It’s no longer only a matter of what you’re saying. It’s a matter of how you’re saying it.
Now that I have a lot of time on my hands, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. It’s the kind of reading I haven’t been able to do in such a long time (it’s a long story). It’s the kind of reading I enjoy. High school! Romance! Discovering yourself!
I’m technically no longer within the ‘young adult’ age bracket, but it’s always been my favorite genre back when I had a lot of time on my hands. And – don’t get mad! – I’m actually reading more of it during this time to improve on my own writing (another long story!). It’s been surprising me how fast I’ve been going through all of them. And, because of that, I thought – why not write reviews about them? Oh, you know you have a lot of feelings.
Well, I do. So bear with me.
I just put down Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up. I started reading it Friday night in the bookstore. And then, I started reading it every spare moment I had. On the commute to work, while waiting for my friends, on the loo…
So here are my thoughts about Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up (WWBU).
I’ve been looking at the hard copy of WWBU on bookstands for AGES. Now, I’ve finally been able to take it home.
I caught Daniel Handler at the 2014 LA Times’ Festival of Books, and I fangirled over him so hard even though I never read A Series of Unfortunate Events (I’m sorry!). I’m an aspiring writer. He was like a god to me.
If his name hadn’t been on the cover, I would’ve never thought that Daniel Handler – this big, fuzzy guy I saw on the stage – wrote this book, and I mean it in the best way possible.
The story is about Min Green, Ed Slaterton, and – you guessed it – why they broke up. The premise of it goes a little like this. Min has dropped a box filled with memorabilia from her relationship with Ed on his doorstep. Each of these has notes on them, explaining why they broke up.
The story is told from Min’s point of view. Her voice is very much like that of a teenager. Albeit, a slightly obsessed one. Visually, it wouldn’t be pleasing to read run-on sentences and a lot of repeated words, but that’s how a teenager thinks. As a teenager, I never thought so articulately like the protagonists of my favorite YA novels. And so, to read a story from Min’s point of view was quite refreshing to me.
There have been a lot of YA novels who have tried to piece together the answer to a question by presenting its readers with evidence to unpack. Right off the top of my head, I remember Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. With that being said, the premise wasn’t entirely new.
The story isn’t new either. Min’s this ‘different’ kind of girl who falls into a relationship with the stereotypical jock with a soft side. The last YA novel I read – literally just days before I picked up WWBU – had the same plotline. (It’s To All the Boys I Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han by the way, which I both loved) And I’ve read a dozen more YA novels with the same idea.
With so much already being said, it’s no longer only a matter of what you’re saying. It’s a matter of how you’re saying it.
I enjoyed WWBU because I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories. I loved Min. I loved how she really wasn’t that different, and she really was just trying to find her place in this world. I knew from the very start that Al had feelings of her. It was obvious. It was a cliché. It was a trope. But that didn’t stop me from trying to bottle in all the feelings I had when Al tried to tell Min that.
Because the title of the book imposed it upon me, all throughout my experience of reading it, I kept asking myself, “So, why did they break up?” With every new chapter and every new item that passed by, I formed an idea in my head, and they kept being brought down.
I thought for sure that they would break up because they had sex, because Min just wasn’t ready. I also thought for a moment that they actually broke up because Min had feelings for Al. I didn’t want them to break up for the reasons that they really did.
Ed isn’t the best. He was a dick more than just a couple of times, and I liked that. I hated the idea YA novels have been trying to feed its readers for years. There are perfect guys out there. No. That’s just not true. Everyone has flaws, and Ed was full of them.
I honestly, honestly thought that he loved Min. But in the end, it was revealed – SPOILER ALERT! – that he was just a confused, horny teenager. Okay, maybe he cared for Min. But at the end of the day, they were both too young to know what love was. Hell, I’m still too young.
That revelation, though. It made everything ache. Reading through those few words Ed spurted out to defend himself after his secret’s been revealed made me go back to all those times he was charming, he was sweet. I felt like I was Min in that moment. I was deceived, and that was exactly what Daniel Handler wanted to make his audience feel.
It’s a good read, I recommend it! Go along with the ride, and have your heart broken along with Min’s.
But I do wonder though – what else is there for YA novels? What else is there for YA romance?
I believe there is so much more. I would love to see a YA romance without a third party, without a love triangle. I would love to see one that embraces the reality of stereotypes rather than transcend them. I want a real YA romance. Because although this was very real – damn was Min’s heartbreak real – it wasn’t really. It was fiction.
No way would Ed read through everything Min wrote. I doubt he’d even look at it. And in all honesty, would a guy like Ed really look at a girl like Min?
We fawn over stories like these because of the likelihood of it happening in real life is very slim (but there is a possibility!). And so, I sincerely hope for a real contemporary YA romance. But until then, I’ll keep reading.
P.S. Kudos to Maira Kalman! I looked forward to every chapter because I knew a new illustration of hers would come along. And those flower petals? Falling and falling, page after page. It was magical.