Book Review: The Museum of Intangible Things
Fair warning: This is not your typical YA road trip novel. I don’t want you to expect it to be something it’s not. I’m glad that I knew that The Museum of Intangible Things dealt A LOT with mental illness before I started, because it wasn’t what I expected from the cover and blurb, and I think I would have been a little taken aback at first when I found out.
This book was weird – it made me feel weird and the prose was weird. But I didn’t NOT like it, if that makes sense. I’m glad I read it and I flew through it pretty quickly.
Order your copy of The Museum of Intangible Things
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. (Synopsis via Goodreads)
This is not a typical road trip that these two best friends have. Zoe is having one of her episodes that comes with being bi-polar. She is too amped up and with her mind focused on some very grandiose ideas, she feels she has to get away from her life and road trip across the country. Hannah is not getting what she wants out of life, so she decides to go with her best friend to both get away from her life and to protect Zoe. Their friendship was a little one-sided to me: Hannah cares deeply about Zoe and protects her constantly. But then it was strange because Hannah could tell that Zoe was spiraling but instead of doing something about it, she just says yes to everything Zoe wants to do even if it is dangerous and not a good idea. I just found myself wishing that what the characters decided to do was completely opposite from what they actually did. I don’t know if maybe that was the point, that they were doing the wrong things, but it was weird.
Then we have the characters themselves. I thought Zoe was fascinating. Well-developed, well-done, fun, real. I think that Wunder dealt with her mental illness in a realistic and serious way. I thought she was mesmerizing. You don’t really read that many books that deal with this, that have characters who have bi-polar disorder, so I really liked it because of that. I think her illness is what drives the story. But it was also really hard to read because of the subject matter, as I’m sure you can imagine. I just wanted her to get help, but she didn’t want it, and Hannah tries but gives up as soon as Zoe says no.
So… Hannah. She’s our narrator so we see everything from her point of view. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book where the narrator was so undeveloped. I’m not really sure how that happened. We get to know what is happening in her life, but Zoe is the focus so we don’t actually know Hannah. I thought she was too passive, too agreeable to Zoe’s foolish ideas. One of the characters that I genuinely loved was Zoe’s little brother, Noah. He’s a charming little boy with Asperger’s; this is where the museum of intangible things comes in: Zoe sets up a display for emotions like pride and sloth. I thought this was a uniquely creative idea and I enjoyed Noah’s character. Zoe continues to use this idea on her road trip with Hannah by teaching her new emotions she feels she needs to know so she can grow (like insouciance, or not giving a shit).
The writing style just wasn’t what I was expecting. I found myself really really enjoying it at times and then feeling strange about it other times. Let me give you a quote or two to show you some of the parts I loved:
She’s like a bullet just waiting for someone to pull a trigger. –Page 2
I’m not convinced she’s bipolar. I just think she’s more alive than the rest of us. –Page 9
This book was weird. I liked it and I didn’t. I would recommend it to anyone who likes contemporary novels that are a little more serious or if you are interested in learning more about bi-polar disorder.