Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrations by Maira Kalman

9 Jul

Bibliographic Information

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrations by Maira Kalman, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011, ISBN: 978-0316127257

Plot Summary

Min and Ed have broken up.  To say goodbye, she has assembled a box of memorabilia from their relationship, which she describes in a letter to her now former boyfriend.  Most of the items are normal everyday tokens – a comb, a box of matches, a movie ticket – but each tells a part of the story of their time together. As Min describes each object, the reader learns the story of their coming together and their breaking apart.

Min and Ed were always a mismatched couple.  She is a quirky, free spirit – in love with the old movies that play in the town’s local theater.  He is a popular boy, with lots of former girlfriends.  No one expects them to last, but the two are immediately attracted to each other, despite their different social groups.  Trying to fit into each other’s worlds is challenging.  Neither Min’s nor Ed’s friends understand the relationship, but the two develop a surprisingly close bond.  Ed appreciates Min’s originality and Min begins to see Ed as more than just a jock.

Their love of each other’s differences is not enough to save them from a terrible secret that changes everything.

Critical Evaluation

Why We Broke Up is a tragic love story that will resonate with young and old alike.  Daniel Handler brings his characteristic humor and insight in telling the story of Min and Ed.  What most readers familiar with his Lemony Snicket books won’t expect, however, is how wonderfully Handler is able to capture the thrill and drama of teen relationships.  Handler demonstrates deep empathy in writing the story from Min’s perspective.  She is a very sympathetic and engaging character, full of interesting ideas and expressions of feeling.  Handler also makes Ed into something more than a stereotypical jock just looking to hook up with a quirky girl.  Ed is clearly drawn to Min because he yearns to have her independence and originality; his troubled home life gives him added depth as a character.

The writing in the book is paired with excellent illustrations by Maira Kalman.  Each chapter begins with her drawings of the items that Min is giving back to Ed and each color illustration is offers additional meaning to the item and makes the memory feel more real and tangible for the reader.

Even though the reader begins the story knowing that Min and Ed’s relationship is going to end tragically, there are a number of great surprises in reading how they fall in love and what happens to them as a couple.  In some ways, knowing the tragic end makes all these moments feel all the more poignant and significant.

Reader’s Annotation

Min and Ed come from two very different worlds.  She is a loner, in love of obscure, classic movies and good coffee.  He is a popular jock with a long history of girlfriends. How these two get together and break up will remind young and old readers of what it feels like to fall in and out of love.

Information about the author

From Daniel Handler’s biography on Amazon.com, we learn that “Daniel Handler (born February 28, 1970) is an American author, screenwriter and accordionist. He is best known for his work under the pen name Lemony Snicket.”

From Maira Kalman’s biography on Amazon.com, we learn that “Maira Kalman is an illustrator, author, and designer. She has created many covers for The New Yorker, including the famous map of Newyorkistan (created with Rick Meyerowitz). Ms. Kalman’s twelve children’s books include Max Makes a Million, Stay Up Late, Swami on Rye, and What Pete Ate. She also has designed fabric for Isaac Mizrahi, accessories for Kate Spade, sets for the Mark Morris Dance Company, and, with her late husband Tibor Kalman under the M&Co. label, clocks, umbrellas, and other accessories for the Museum of Modern Art. Ms. Kalman’s work is shown at the Julie Saul Gallery in Manhattan.”


Young Adult Fiction

Curriculum Ties

English, Art, Health

Booktalking Ideas

How does Ed’s relationship with his mother affect his feelings for Min?

Could Ed and Min’s relationship overcome the barriers of their different social groups?

Reading Level / Interest Age

Grade 9 and up

Challenge Issues

Some language and scenes depicting teenage drinking and sex.  The description is responsible, not gratuitous, and not written in graphic detail.  The book received many awards, including, Amazon Best Book of the Month, January 2012.

Why did I include this title?

I am a big fan of Daniel Handler’s Lemony Snicket books.  When I saw that he had written a realistic story about teen relationships, I knew he’d bring his characteristic wit and intelligence and make the novel engaging to read.  Maira Kalman’s illustrations, enhance the story in terrific ways.



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