It should not shock you to learn that Why We Broke Up doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s the story of a breakup, told through the items Minerva Green collected while dating Ed Slaterton, which she has boxed up to return to him. The novel is Min’s letter to Ed, with each chapter centered on one item in the box and a story about how it came to be there. Daniel Handler provides the words, and Maira Kalman’s paintings of each item introduce the chapters; the two fit together to create a perfect mood, both magical and heartbreaking.
Min is a classic film-obsessed café denizen who shops at vintage stores that are only open for an hour and a half one day a week, but hates being pigeonholed as “arty” or “different.” Ed is co-captain of the basketball team and about as far from “different” as it gets, with his jocky earnest ways and string of exes. Can these two star-crossed lovers overcome their pasts and their separate groups of friends to throw an epic birthday bash for an 88-year-old stranger who may or may not be a film star from days of yore? Yeah, probably not.
Handler’s prose gets inside Min’s head and jumbled hormones; when she’s ultimately betrayed we’re ready to throw the box of stuff right in Ed’s stupid face (despite still kind of liking him). And Kalman’s paintings give us not just the thing-ness of the things left behind, but some of the magic that made them worth saving. Anyone who has had a broken heart and sifted through the detritus left behind will find Min’s collection extremely relatable. If that’s not you yet, just wait; Why We Broke Up is a beautiful story, but also soul food for dark times. Don’t miss it.
Read our interview with Daniel Handler for Why We Broke Up.