Heart-Shaped Box

The Ephemera of Young Love in Why We Broke Up



I kept a break-up box. I'll bet most teenagers did. It didn't start out as a box full of the ephemera of a broken heart; it started happily, with newspaper clippings of my boyfriend's starring role in a play, funny little notes, pictures of him by his locker. But after the breakup, that pink shoebox became a well of movie tickets, sugar packets, and chewed pen caps—the garbage of teenage love. Daniel Handler's new YA novel Why We Broke Up perfectly describes this time capsule of coming-of-age profundity by going through Min Green's blue box of break-up souvenirs.

That Handler (more commonly known as Lemony Snicket) can so accurately capture the tone and inflection of a forlorn, smart, and romantic high school girl is evidence of his talents. Why We Broke Up is a lengthy letter written by Golden Age film lover Min to her ex-boyfriend, the popular jock Ed Slaterton, recounting why they broke up, and taking inventory of her box of mementos before she dumps it off on his doorstep. The timeline of their opposites-attract romance is punctuated by artist Maira Kalman, quirky and colorful drawings of the box's contents—rubber bands, a T-shirt, and a condom wrapper marking the loss of Min's virginity.

Why We Broke Up is spot-on in its story of both the thrill of finding first love, and the terrible self-important hurt that feels so world-shattering as a teenager—and hell, might still hurt a little now. From the marathon phone calls to the clashing of friends, to revisiting old haunts after the inevitable end to cataloguing who said "I love you" first, even while admitting the pointlessness of the exercise, Why We Broke Up has every realization you discovered the hard way. "How wrong to think... getting kissed makes you kissable... like liking movies makes you a director. How utterly incorrect to think it any other way, a box of crap is treasures, a boy smiling means it." In a symbolic twist, Why We Broke Up—the physical book—like love at that age, is impossibly heavy for being such a slim, new thing.


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