Of Love, Heartbreak and Heartache
By Vivek Tejuja
I bought Why We Broke Up last year, and kept struggling with it. I would read about 50 pages or so and give it up for another book. It happens sometimes, and that doesn’t mean the book is bad; may be the timing is. So, I didn’t think much of it. And when I picked it up again this time, I was enthralled by the plot and more so by the artwork by Maira Kalman, which by the way, is beautifully done throughout the book.
The title of the book may throw you off a little. However, don’t give up on it because of that. There’s a lot more to the narrative than just heartache. The book is mainly about love and how we fall in it.
For every time a couple breaks up, there are things that are returned. That is almost the unwritten law of breaking up, of ending it all, of finding the so-called sense of “closure”. We return things because they are memories – of times of happiness that now evoke only sadness.
Min and Ed, two teenagers at the heart of the novel, whose relationship has ended, are no exceptions. They are an improbable couple who had nothing in common, and yet fell in love. They split ways and the story is narrated from Min’s perspective, who is now returning “stuff” that she collected (or stuff that was given to her by Ed) during the course of their relationship, explaining why they broke up and what happened between them.
Min is studying to be a filmmaker, so the entire process of the breakup and the atmosphere of the book seem rather dramatic, but only fair, since it is about heartache. Love needs many mediums to speak through. In this case, it is movies, especially old ones, which play an important part in Min’s and Ed’s lives. This is brilliant, because it tempts you to go and watch those movies.
Heartache at any age demands its due and is serious, and should be. It’s not easy, and more so when you are young. And the book deals with this.
Though I don’t like reading young adult fiction all that much, I loved this book. I think it’s to do with the nature of love and heartbreak and its universality that resonates and strikes a chord in all of us. Also, there is a sense of hope that’s touching. That said, I found the story a little too biased, as it’s written only from Min’s perspective. Maybe I would have loved to hear Ed’s point of view, too. After all, it’s only fair. However, this flaw is compensated for by the plot and writing, and of course, the beautiful and masterful illustrations.
For me, at some level, Why We Broke Up is also about the secondary characters. The quirky and interesting bunch of best friends and ex-lovers play an important role, especially in young adult novels. In this case, Ed’s sister Joan is a pivotal character and it is not difficult to fall in love with her.
Though I read the book sporadically to begin with, its 350-odd pages flow effortlessly, and as a reader I always look forward to this kind of reading – the kind that is not tedious.
Why We Broke Up somehow reminded me of David Levithan’s writing, and that to me was one more plus in favour of Handler’s writing. By the way, Handler is the same author who has written A Series of Unfortunate Events – a set of children’s novels – under the pen name Lemony Snicket. So, one can see the range he is capable of.
One more thing: You cannot read Why We Broke Up in an electronic book format. The effect and sentiment will not be the same, as the illustrations and the quality and feel of paper add to the experience. I recommend you read it, get your heart broken, mend it and then read it all over again.