Study Guide

Why We Broke Up Themes

  • Friendship

    Friendship is hugely important in the world of Why We Broke Up—in some ways, the book is about Min and Al just as much as it's about Min and Ed. At the same time, though, it's worth noting that platonic relationships aren't necessarily what they seem to be on the surface. Min and Al have been best friends forever, but he secretly has romantic feelings for her. And on the other side of the relationship, Ed and Annette supposedly broke up, but they're secretly fooling around.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Min flatly rejects the notion that men and women can never be "just friends." Do you think the text supports her belief? Explain.
    2. What is the most important act of friendship in Why We Broke Up? Explain your choice.
    3. Do you think Min is a good friend to Al? Give a few examples to back up your claim.

    Chew on This

    In the world of Why We Broke Up, friendship trumps all else.

    The reason things could never work between Min and Ed is that they were never really friends.

  • Love

    Perhaps unsurprisingly based on the title, love is a central theme in Why We Broke Up. Problem is, the word means different things to different characters. Min's love for Ed is more epic and melancholy than a Smiths song, while Ed's love is more jubilant and insincere, like a pop song that shoots up the charts, only to fall off when the next thing comes along. Spoiler alert: The next thing to come along is Annette. And yes, Min's totally crushed when she finds out. Which leaves us with a question for you: Is it always better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all?

    Questions About Love

    1. In Why We Broke Up, characters have a lot of different ideas about love. How do these differences of opinion cause conflict? Give examples to support your claim.
    2. Do you think Min's love for Ed was one-sided? Why or why not?
    3. Min says she isn't in love with Ed anymore. Do you believe her? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    In the world of Why We Broke Up, romantic love is more important than anything.

    Why We Broke Up makes a strong case for the old adage that opposites attract.

  • Lust

    Why We Broke Up may not be a sexy vampire story, but Min Green knows a thing or two about lust. She feels it acutely for Ed Slaterton, and even after their breakup, she just can't quit gushing about how gosh darn hot he is. For a long time (well, five weeks), Min lets her desire eclipse her better judgment, ignoring warning signs that Ed isn't all she cracks him up to be. But when she finds out about his lust for other women, she can't stand the sight of him. "I could have touched you, wanted to, couldn't stand it," she writes. "Who were you, Ed? What could I do with you?" (40.88). It's the beginning of the end, for sure.

    Questions About Lust

    1. Min often describes Ed in terms of his body, but we never hear any concrete details, like his hair and eye colors. For that matter, we don't get descriptions like those of anyone in the book. Why do you think the author omitted these details?
    2. Sometimes Min jokes uneasily about Ed's sexual experience. Why does it make her uncomfortable?
    3. Min tells Ed she doesn't want to lose her virginity in his bed; she wants the circumstances to be extraordinary. What do you think that's about?

    Chew on This

    On the surface, Why We Broke Up is a love story, but the plot revolves mainly around sex.

    Min's lust for Ed is broadcast clearly through her sensual descriptions of his body.

  • Life Imitates Art

    Min's love of movies is central to her personality in Why We Broke Up. She often thinks of her own life in terms of movie jargon and the plots of her favorite films. Is this tendency a charming quirk or a bad habit? Either way, she doesn't appreciate it when Ed turns the tables at the end of the book: "There must be some—I don't know, like a movie, right?" he says. "Isn't there some movie where it's like there's two guys, twins I think, one guy doing the right thing and—" (40.73). Min's reply? "This isn't a movie. We're not movie stars" (40.74). She could have fooled us.

    Questions About Life Imitates Art

    1. Compare and contrast Min and Ed's taste in movies. How does this reveal their differences? How about their similarities?
    2. What does Min's taste in films say about her personality?
    3. If your own life were a movie, which one would it be? Explain your choice.

    Chew on This

    Min's insistence that life is like the movies is damaging, both to herself and to others.

    Min's insistence that life is like the movies is an admirable trait—it's a key part of her whimsy.

  • Lies and Hypocrisy

    The three main characters of Why We Broke Up are each deceptive in their own way. Since Ed's the one who broke Min's heart, she zooms in most on his lies—thing is, though, Ed isn't a particularly skillful liar. When it comes to Annette he has a bad case of mentionitis, and there are other signs (including many from Joan) that Min can't—or won't—see. Does Min read the clues correctly and ignore them? Or is she really so blinded by love that she never sees her breakup coming? Some might say Min's an unreliable narrator, but it's also possible that she herself doesn't know whether or not she knew what was up, if you know what we mean.

    Questions About Lies and Hypocrisy

    1. Which character is more two-faced in Why We Broke Up: Ed or Min? Explain your answer.
    2. Many people lie over the course of the book. What do you think is the biggest whopper? Why?
    3. You know from page one that Ed and Min are going to break up. But did you guess what Ed had done to end them before the scene in the flower shop? Either way, explain your line of thinking, turning to the text for support.

    Chew on This

    Min sees the signs that Ed is cheating on her, and she willfully ignores them.

    Min doesn't know that Ed is cheating until their fight in the flower shop. Hindsight is 20/20, and she only deciphers the clues in retrospect.

  • Sadness

    Regrets—Min has a few. Her sadness weaves its way through Why We Broke Up, taking the edge off sharper feelings like love and anger. The breakup box, the central device that structures the book (more on this over in the "Symbols" section), is itself an object imbued with deep nostalgia, filled as it is with relics of Min's relationship with Ed. As she goes through the objects within it one by one, we can't help but notice she's feeling blue. Stay strong, girl—breaking up is hard to do. Even when you're super confident it's the right choice.

    Questions About Sadness

    1. Min feels a sense of closure at the prospect of leaving the breakup box on Ed's doorstep. Why?
    2. Why does Min give back the stuff right away? We know she returns it several weeks after the breakup.
    3. Imagine you're giving Min a pep talk. What would you say to cheer her up?

    Chew on This

    Why We Broke Up is best read as a tragedy—the end is a huge bummer.

    Why We Broke Up is best read as a comedy—the whole point is that Min's moving on.

  • Identity

    Why We Broke Up is not a comedy of errors, but it involves multiple cases of mistaken identity. In the climactic scene where the breakup finally occurs, the florist confuses Min with Annette, and at exactly the same time, Min discovers that she has confused the identities of Lottie Carson, a dead film star, and a random old lady in town. This set of doubles (Annette/Min and Lottie/"Lottie") echo the situations of other characters that are leading secret lives. Ed is Min's boyfriend, but not, because he's cheating on her with Annette. And Al is Min's platonic best friend, but not, because he's actually in love with her. It's enough to make a girl's head spin.

    Questions About Identity

    1. Why We Broke Up involves at least two cases of mistaken identity. Which one do you find the most surprising? Why?
    2. At the end of the book, Ed describes himself as two different people: the one who's with Min, and the one who's with Annette. If you could only pick one, which would you choose as the "real" Ed? Why?
    3. Do you think it's possible to be more than one person at the same time? Explain your answer, using the book to support your claim.

    Chew on This

    Why We Broke Up is rife with mistaken identities, but by the end of the book, we've sorted out who's who.

    Why We Broke Up is rife with mistaken identities, but by the end of the book, the characters still seem uncertain about who they are.

  • Coming of Age

    Why We Broke Up is written from the perspective of a high school student who recently lost her virginity, so it's a safe bet that it's a story about coming of age. By toggling back and forth between flashbacks and the present day, we as readers get to see who the characters have been and who they are now, getting a sense of how they've matured (or, in the case of Ed, perhaps plateaued). The question looming at the end of the book, though, is who will they become. They're just teens after all, so there's more coming of age for them on the horizon.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. Which character demonstrates the most maturity in Why We Broke Up? Use the person's actions to support your claim.
    2. Min and Ed's relationship lasts a brief five weeks. How much do you think a person can change in that period of time?
    3. How do you think that Min will feel about Ed when she looks back on their time together ten years from now? Why?

    Chew on This

    Min matures rapidly over the course of the book, and by the time it ends, she's learned a lot about life.

    Min doesn't really change over the course of the book. When she breaks up with Ed, her life just returns to how it was before she met him.