Top-Five Reads of 2012: #3 Daniel Handler's WHY WE BROKE UP

Illustrated by Maira Kalman

I can see why some folks have—or will have—an issue with this book, as some of it can be a bit of a stretch in terms of how the events unfold. Even the naïveté of our narrator might need that Mary Poppins’ remedy to swallow. Plus, you know simply from the title where this book is going and what’s going to happen, so there are no surprises for the ending here. It’s definitely more of a story for the journey than a story for the ending. Plus, the writing isn't quite the norm for most YA books. But that's what makes this one so good to me.

The writing is gorgeous. I love Min’s voice. It’s insightful, spiteful, and full of wit. As she paints every scene, we witness a new heartbreak unfold, one more of those “insignificant” moments that when we reflect on them, we see where everything was going wrong, and we can’t help but wonder, “Why in the world did it take me so long to figure this shit out?” To me, that’s what makes this book so real, because of its focus on the power of hindsight and how we tend to assign such meaning to the smallest of things, which are illustrated in simple and wonderful paintings.

It’s easy to think that this book could’ve worked just as well without the illustrations. I honestly don’t think I would’ve liked it any less, but the visual anchors work quite well, too. Besides, can you really argue with some beautiful artwork?

The last thing I loved about this book was all of the film references. They were so obscure and bizarre that even the film nerd in me had to google more than a few of them. And that’s saying something, seeing as I not only have a film degree, but I also have watched a crapton of films in my life—including many “oldies” and foreign films. So it’s nice to know that there are folks out there with even more film-nerdom within them than even I have. I tip my “useless knowledge” hat to you, Daniel.

Even taking his writings as Lemony Snickett on their own, Mr. Handler is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors, and this book's original voice and success in telling a love story that's doomed from the beginning but still keeps a reader invested lifts his rank even higher in my world of Christopher.

Like Ida B., this one won't be for everyone, but I loved it. A lot. It hit all the right “quirk” notes that I need in a story, and it hit them as cleanly as a shot from either Katniss or Merida’s bows.