If it is true that 67 percent of all YA (young adult) novels are read by adults, YA author Wendy Wunder's audience at the library last week reflected it: Among the room packed with grown-ups there were a number of seats occupied by Young South Enders, too young to vote perhaps but old enough to hear from a writer who speaks to their lives.
The Museum of Intangible Things, Wunder's second book is, like her first, The Probability of Miracles, set in a working-class town in New Jersey. The punchy and immediate quality of the lives of young adults she describes throws a sharp and empathetic light on some of their challenges. "I come from a long line of downtrodden women who marry alcoholics," narrator Hannah starts out matter-of-factly, and that's only the beginning. She manages a hot dog cart because her alcoholic father doesn't want to pay for college. Then he steals her money. "My dad wanted me to have a hot dog cart but it would never get by my mom." Wunder deadpanned.
Hannah's friend, Zoe tries to teach her little brother Noah about the intangible things of life: he has been diagnosed with Asperger's. She builds installations for him in the basement to help him navigate emotional thickets he can't traverse on his own. But most of the book is about the friendship between Hannah and Zoe and the intangible things they, too, need to learn about the world. Each chapter deals with an intangible issue, from Dreams to Destiny and Loyalty to Lust. "I wanted to write a book about two girls who get in over their head and have to backtrack," Wunder told the audience after reading two brief segments from the novel. "And use parts of an old journal I had, which included a lake setting, a hot dog cart, and the Gowanus Expressway."
Wunder doesn't read much YA fiction herself ("I just want to write what I want to write," she said) although she does like a few YA writers, notably Rainbow Rowell and Laurie Halse Anderson. Her agent had opposed leaving the word 'intangible' in the book's title, saying teenagers couldn't pronounce it, let alone know what it meant. But Wunder insisted, and the agent relented. Wunder promised to name her first dog after her. It may have been an excellent decision: the books brought to the reading sold out.