Title: The Museum of Intangible Things
Author: Wendy Wunder
Loyalty. Envy. Obligation. Dreams. Disappointment. Fear. Negligence. Coping. Elation. Lust. Nature. Freedom. Heartbreak. Insouciance. Audacity. Gluttony. Belief. God. Karma. Knowing what you want (there is probably a French word for it). Saying Yes. Destiny. Truth. Devotion. Forgiveness. Life. Happiness (ever after).
Hannah and Zoe haven’t had much in their lives, but they’ve always had each other. So when Zoe tells Hannah she needs to get out of their down-and-out New Jersey town, they pile into Hannah’s beat-up old Le Mans and head west, putting everything—their deadbeat parents, their disappointing love lives, their inevitable enrollment at community college—behind them.
As they chase storms and make new friends, Zoe tells Hannah she wants more for her. She wants her to live bigger, dream grander, aim higher. And so Zoe begins teaching Hannah all about life’s intangible things, concepts sadly missing from her existence—things like audacity, insouciance, karma, and even happiness.
An unforgettable read from the acclaimed author of The Probability of Miracles, The Museum of Intangible Things sparkles with the humor and heartbreak of true friendship and first love.
Earlier this year I read Wendy Wunder’s debut, The Probability of Miracles, which was interesting but a bit of a slow book. With this book, I knew that I loved the cover and the summary sounded interesting enough, but I didn’t really know much else and what to expect.
At the beginning of this book, I was a bit unsure of the story. The summary didn’t make it too clear who the protagonist was, so it took me a couple pages to figure it out. The friendship at the center of this book was the stereotypical shy-friend-and-outgoing-friend combination, which I’m a bit tired of. The main character, Hannah, managed to keep my attention enough, though, so I didn’t mind the cliché as much as I could have.
There isn’t too much of a plot – this is very much a road trip kind of story, although they didn’t get to that part of the story for at least fifty pages or so. Hannah and Zoe are on a road trip for very different reasons – Hannah is hoping to get away from their small town life for a day or two while Zoe is sick (bipolar disorder most likely, although it’s not quite clear since Zoe is indeed sick and Hannah doesn’t realize just how sick) and thinks she’s chasing the aliens that she really belongs with. The purpose of this story is for Hannah to learn about some intangible things, like audacity and saying yes, and destiny while also understanding that Zoe needs more help than she can give her. It’s not an in-depth-look at bipolar disorder, but it’s an interesting one from the perspective of a best friend rather than the person herself.
I liked Hannah for the most part while I was reading the book, but when I think about her about a week later as I write this review, I don’t remember too much about her. She was interesting enough, but not too memorable. Zoe was much more memorable, and not just because she was the more outgoing one. Zoe has bipolar disorder, but she’s very much in denial about that – she believes that everyone else is wrong and that Hannah is the only one who believes her and that she’s the only one she can trust. She enjoys having a good time and celebrating the intangible things in life. One of my favorite relationships in this book isn’t the friendship between Hannah and Zoe (although I do like it), but Zoe’s relationship with her younger brother who is very smart but doesn’t understand emotions and other intangible things at all. The titular museum is Zoe’s way of teaching her brother about these things through displays in their basement. Her younger brother might have Asperger’s or something similar (I can’t remember for sure what), so it was nice seeing two mental disorders in one book.
As a road trip book, it was interesting seeing the different locations that they get to, like a Wal-Mart during a Black Friday sale and an exploitive Native American tourist trap. The town that they left was a character in itself, although one that isn’t around for too long and could have been deeper. Wherever they were, you could picture it quite well and it made the story feel very atmospheric and moody and interesting.
The Adult Situation
The adult situation in this book isn’t too good. Hannah’s father is an alcoholic who’s attending AA meetings but isn’t doing well at all; her mother pretty much gave up after their divorce and doesn’t care for her daughter at all; and Zoe’s mother has trouble juggling a job and two children who are sick and no husband at all. When the girls leave on their road trip, there’s no adult supervision at all and they don’t count on their parents caring too much at all.
There is a romance with a boy who was in a relationship already but had history with Hannah. There’s a little bit of romantic drama here and there and the love interest pops up again at the end of the book, but the romance definitely isn’t the focus of the story. I really appreciated the short epilogue which suggests that their relationship is quite realistic, which you don’t really find in YA books much.
The ending was definitely a shock. Things escalate quickly and dramatic things happen and I was left in a bit of a shock. Not the happiest ending, but a very interesting one indeed.
I did enjoy this book, although I don’t think I loved it or anything. Sometimes it confused me, especially with the dealing of bipolar disorder, or the lack of dealing with to be more accurate. It was an interesting look at the disorder, but it would have been nice seeing Zoe get proper help for her illness. Regardless, I’m interested to see what Wunder will come up with next, after a book about a cancer patient and now bipolar disorder.