Ok, ok. I get it. Daniel Handler is pretty amazing. I know I'm totally late for the Daniel Handler train, but after finishing Why We Broke Up, I ended up with a whole new sense of respect and awe for this multi-talented author. He's had success with his novels for adults, but you probably know him best as Lemony Snicket, his pen name for the wildly-popular A Series of Unfortunate Events for kids.
What's left to conquer now? Young Adult Fiction. I believe Handler's off to a good start with Why We Broke Up, which chronicles the short-lived high school relationship between quirky (but DON'T call her "artsy") Min Green and jock Ed Slaterton. Min is obsessed with obscure classic films and Italian coffee while Ed lives for basketball and partying. We already know that this relationship is doomed from the start because the novel is essentially a long letter from Min to Ed explaining the many reasons why they broke up. Each chapter opens with a vivid color painting by illustrator Maira Kalman of a seemingly insignificant object that Min saved during their relationship but has now thrown into a box to give back to Ed along with her lengthy written testament. There are bottle caps, matches, movie stubs, a toy truck, a comb, etc. Each item's significance is explained as Min chronicles their opposites-attract beginning, their whirlwind relationship with its ups and downs, and ultimately, their crash-and-burn breakup. And a fun fact: All of the random movies and music mentioned in the book were fabricated for the story.
It's not the most original story ever told, and some of the characters (including Ed) are more like caricatures, but what really stood out was Handler's adept and multi-dimensional narration as the main character Min. I found her to be unique, awkward, passionate, angsty, confused, smart, naive...Especially during her rambling rants about school, her mixed feelings for Ed, or her own insecurities, I found myself thinking about the smudged pages of pencil scrawl in my old high school diary. I still remember my first teenage heartbreak unfolding in a series of unfortunate events, and Handler tells the tale well. I look forward to what will hopefully be more YA fiction from this talented author.