Hannah and Zoe are the best of friends, and completely inseparable. They’ve always been there for one another, so when Zoe tells Hannah that it’s time to leave their po-dunk New Jersey town and see the world, the two embark on a crazy road trip adventure. Along the way, Zoe tries to teach Hannah about the intangible things in life: like insouciance, audacity, and happiness.
Wendy Wunder’s sophomore novel has high aims and delivers on many of them. This novel has much of what many readers of contemporary YA look for in their books: romance, independence, self-discovery, and a great deal of wit. The result is a mixed bag, and while it will work for many readers, it didn’t completely gel for this one.
Because Zoe’s bi-polar disorder plays such a prominent role in the novel, it’s impossible to discuss the novel’s limitations without also touching on that. Zoe has relied on Hannah to help her down from her episodes, and while it has worked in the past, the two girls find that it is harder and harder to self-medicate when it comes to Zoe’s increasing mania. Therein lies the biggest issue for this reader when it comes to this book.
Without disputing the fact that bi-polar disorder is a very real thing that some teens face, there was something about the portrayal in this novel that didn’t sit right with this reader. Too often, Zoe felt like a manic pixie dream girl, and while Wunder did try to showcase the other side of that coin, it felt oddly hollow. Hannah shoulders a great deal of her best friend’s burden, but something about the story didn’t feel authentic. Zoe has a support system in place at home, so it seemed odd that that support system would just allow the two girls to go off gallivanting.
So much time and energy is spent on describing Zoe’s zaniness and illness that it feels as though Hannah gets the short shrift often. Unfortunately, this reader never connected to either character, making this harder to get through. Lacking that connection to these girls made the stakes feel very low, even though that was clearly not Wunder’s intent.
That being said, the novel is–like her previous work–incredibly well-written. There are some real gems of insight here, and there is a certain segment of the reading population that will love this one. Wit and a certain rawness are present throughout the novel. It just wasn’t enough to sustain the novel to its inevitable (and predictable) conclusion.
Also, the sudden veering into magical realism near the end felt like a way to add some safety netting to the conclusion, which harmed the emotional impact. Not all readers will feel that way, though.
The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder. Razorbill: 2014.