The Museum of Heartbreak
Simon & Shuster, 2016 269 pgs.
Penelope is a late bloomer. It is the start of her junior year of high school at her private school in New York City and she has yet to have a boyfriend. Her two best friends, Audrey and Eph, are both establishing new relationship and growing away from her. Audrey has a new best friend, who happens to be Penelope's arch-nemesis. Eph has become suddenly handsome and in demand and when they are together things sometimes are getting awkward. Enter new cute boy, Keats, who has history with the arch-nemesis, yet appears to like Penelope. She dives head-long into her first romance with this seemingly perfect boy, all while confronting feelings of confusion about Eph. Meanwhile, things are weird with the adults in her life, as Penelope begins to understand that grown-ups have problems of there own and are not perfect. Things become increasingly strained with Audrey until that relationship snaps and Penelope finds new friends by joining the staff of her school's literary magazine. Heartache does arrive in the story, although not in the way expected, and a happy ending is reached by the book's conclusion.
First time author, Leder, writes a romance that is a cut above the average fair. More than a romance, this is also a book about friendship, family, and growing up. I loved this book and found it impossible to put down. Leder does for New York what Stephanie Perkins did for Paris and the city is an intricate part of the story. Girls will relate to Penelope, a fellow reader and late bloomer. She emerges into a butterfly as the book progresses and finds her confidence and dating mojo. Even though Penelope is a book nerd, she is very cool. She dresses in vintage store finds and races around New York on the Subway doing interesting things. The reader feels what first love is like right along with our protagonist and Leder captures both its emotions and complexities perfectly. The book itself is designed within the format of the Heartbreak Museum. Each chapter is introduced by an artifact, carefully cataloged, featured within the chapter pages. Penelope's father is a curator for the Natural History Museum, which may be why she chooses to capture her heartbreak within this format, and also serves to add another dimension of coolness to the story. The romance element gets steamy, but not too graphic, and is not the only focus of the story. Nerd girls will enjoy spending time in Penelope's shoes (I know I did). Meg Leder is an author to watch and I can't wait to read what she writes next.