Penelope Marx wants what most teenage girls want: a dream boyfriend. At seventeen, she’s never been kissed, and Penelope and her best friend Audrey fantasize about what they want in their perfect boyfriend. On the first day of school, Penelope meets Keats, an attractive boy who at first glance seems to embody all of the characteristics of Penelope’s dream boyfriend. She develops a crush on Keats and starts dating him after getting close to him at a party he hosted. Meanwhile, Audrey and Eph, Penelope’s two best friends, start hanging out with other people. As a result, Penelope goes to a fair by herself and meets Grace and Miles, two members of Nevermore, the school’s literary magazine. Penelope joins the Nevermore staff and reads the pieces that students have submitted for consideration. She recognizes one of the anonymous submissions as Keats’s, and she is torn whether to include it since she does not like the story. Keats has also started treating Penelope with disrespect, and hanging out with Cherisse, Penelope’s archenemy. Penelope is then faced with a tough decision: stay with Keats and be disrespected or be without a boyfriend. In addition, her friend Eph is becoming more attracted to her, and she is afraid that if they date their friendship won’t be the same.
Penelope is very socially awkward, quiet, and quirky, which readers can pick up on through her dialogue and her actions. Many teenage girls will be able to relate to the social awkwardness Penelope has when she first meets Keats. Penelope also lives in New York City, and Leder uses her personal knowledge of the city to create a descriptive setting that includes eclectic coffee shops, thrift stores, and flea markets. To go along with the title, Museum of Heartbreak, each chapter has an illustration of an object adjacent to a museum-style description in place of a chapter title, and the chapter that follows reveals why the object is included in Penelope’s museum. That was a unique touch to the novel that connected to the overall museum theme. Teens who like novels that feature friends, love, and heartbreak should check out Museum of Heartbreak.