Written by Wendy Wunder
Published April, 2010 by Razorbill
Genres: Contemporary, Loss & Grief, Travel
Purchase: The Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia
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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.
Gorgeous cover? Check! Best friends? Check. Road trip? Check! The promise of a great contemporary? Check. After reading, still think it was a good idea? Wrong. The Museum of Intangible Things had one thing going for it when all was said and done… it was a quick read. The rest of it? I can only describe it as ‘ridiculous’.
“Having a resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”
Okay, so the good things here are these: it was a quick read I was able to get through with ease, and Wendy Wunder is actually quite good with words. I’ve seen a lot of praise for her The Probability of Miracles, so was expecting this to be on par with that. I was surprised, however, to see that even fans of her debut were disappointed with The Museum of Intangible Things.
The premise is great! It promises some prime time for reflection on life, learning about yourself and growing. I always LOVE road trips in Young Adult fiction and am always willing to get behind a little kookiness, but this… it was just BEYOND any kookiness I expected.
“You need to be flagrantly insouciant.
You care way too much. And because of that you will be paralyzed for life and miss out on everything.”
Let’s start with our main characters, Hannah and Zoe. They are two peas in a pod, yet they couldn’t be more different. Hannah is boring while Zoe is a constant ball of energy. Hannah is comfy in a pair of jeans and a tee while Zoe likes to were silver leggings and halter tops. You get the idea. They also hang out in the attic of the nearby private school, trying to learn more than they can at their underfunded public school while perving on all the cute richies.
Things started getting preposterous right there, to be honest. Who seriously hangs out in the attic of a private school, so often that they have put posters on the walls, etc. and haven’t been caught yet? Anyway, I ignored it and moved on. I had an inkling this was going to be a weird ride if this is what we began with.
Hannah and Zoe’s families are strange. There’s a whole lot of alcoholism, mental illness and problems in general. As a result, both girls feel extremely disconnected from the life they feel they want and deserve. Zoe herself isn’t always sunshine, as she battles with bipolar disorder and has even been in a ‘home’ for it in the past.
What first started annoying me about Hannah (apart from her being a bore) was that she was extremely influenced and persuaded by Zoe. Zoe had this total power over her, and not once did the power waver throughout the entire book.
Zoe finds out that she is going to be committed again, after being seemingly raped (we never really find out) and spiralling into her old ways. Her solution is to persuade Hannah to come on an adventure with her across America, where she’ll teach her how to live properly and do all the things she’s ever wanted to do. They pack up Hannah’s car and set off, their only currency being the rolls of quarters that belonged to Zoe’s grandmother which had been hidden away in her cupboard.
“She really needs to believe she’s special. I admire that about her. Because you have to believe you’re special before you can do anything special.”
A lot of weird stuff happens across the span of this ‘road trip’, which just made me dislike the characters more. They SLEEP at an Ikea, where Zoe tasers a security guard and they also SLEEP in a penguin house at a zoo in New York. It was just utterly… STUPID. They also steal ALL THE TIME, whether it be clothes, food or (by the end of it) cars and A HORSE. At no point in time did I feel sorry for any of the characters or even begin to like them.
Zoe got more ridiculous as time went on, and Hannah just kept enabling her. It was clear that Zoe was going to do something positively life-threatening eventually, and at no point in time did Hannah make a real effort to get her under control or get her home safely. She kept being goaded and persuaded. I mean, the girls even went INTO A TORNADO because Zoe wanted to. Just… stupid.
There’s this weird romance in it, too, between Hannah and this boy Danny she’s always liked after a kiss they shared as kids. It’s not a HUGE part of the book, but it does play a part in it. I never really ‘got’ that aspect of it, either.
The ending, like the rest of the book, was just strange. I couldn’t help but think ‘I TOLD YOU SO’ for the most part. Maybe if Hannah and Danny had spent more time looking for Zoe in earnest, rather than pulling over at a gas stop to have sex for the third or fourth time, it might have been a different outcome. For a best friend that would do anything for Zoe, even die with her, Hannah sure was distracted easily when the time came to play saviour.
The Museum of Intangible Things outwardly projects itself as a fun, coming-of-age novel about two best friends but quickly sheds this disguise within the first few pages. Like I said, I’m all for a bit of kookiness, but this one was just way off the deep end.