Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Published on October 4th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Format: eBook, Hardcover
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From the author of the New York Times bestseller All the Bright Places comes a heart-wrenching story about what it means to see someone—and love someone—for who they truly are.
Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for EVERY POSSIBILITY LIFE HAS TO OFFER. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.
Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything in new and bad-ass ways, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.
Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. . . . Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.
Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are—and seeing them right back.
“You are wanted…”
Libby Strout outshines every star in the universe. Even the sun. Especially the sun. She is sunshine. To give her or this book any less than five stars would be a disgrace. She made this book. And, if you haven’t guessed by now, Libby was my favorite thing about Holding Up the Universe. As a character, she’s spunky and sassy and sarcastic. I loved her dry humor and her comebacks to people who tried to bully and unsettle her. Libby knows who she is—she is a Dancing Queen, she is funny, she is courageous, she is an internet sensation, she is fat—and she’s not afraid of it. She is an incredibly real and relatable character. She and I are pretty much on the same wavelength. I am very much a ‘mind your own business and just let people live’ type person. Unless I’m watching a TV show or movie, I don’t want no drama in my life. Libby has the same ‘don’t bother me and I won’t bother you’ mentality. Unfortunately for her, drama and shitty people follow her everywhere. But, she’s not afraid to turn around and put them in their place. That’s pretty much how she met Jack Masselin.
“I know what you’re thinking—if you hate it so much and it’s such a burden, just lose the weight, and then that job will go away. But I’m comfortable where I am. I may lose more weight. I may not. But why should what I weigh impact other people? I mean, unless I’m sitting on them, who cares?”
Jack is a master pretender. On the outside, he’s perfect—cute, popular and smart. But on the inside, he’s drowning and losing his grip on reality. Jack suffers from prosopagnosia, a brain disorder that makes people unable to recognize familiar faces. Every day he looks at himself and his family and friends, and he sees strangers staring back. His disorder (which I had never even heard of before picking up this book) is thoroughly explored throughout the story. Seeing the world through Jack’s eyes, it’s impossible not to sympathize with him. But, I admit that he annoyed me at times because of all his pretend douchiness and actual douchiness. (Even he admits he’s lousy.) However, his character shines in moments with his mother and with Libby—in those moments he is really freaking sweet and kindhearted.
“‘With face blindness, I seem to constantly lose the people I love.’
She goes quiet for a second. ‘I know what that’s like.’”
Libby and Jack’s romance is beyond adorkable. There are so many heartwarming moments between them. They are both two very lonely souls. They’re the kids at school whom everyone knows everything and nothing about. They’re seen and “known”, but not really. Not truly. When they are together, they are less alone and they see each other like no one else does.
“I love the way she struts like she’s on a catwalk. I love the hugeness of her, and I don’t mean her actual physical weight… All this time, I thought it was her weight that made me see her.
But it’s not her weight at all.
Some readers may worry that Holding Up the Universe is offensive, but it is far from it. While there is bullying and fat-shaming and name calling, Niven never portrays those acts as acceptable or okay. Nor does she encourage such behavior. She also doesn’t suggest that being fat is wrong or unacceptable. Had Libby gone and lost a bunch of weight by the end of the book and subsequently been considered ‘pretty’ or ‘accepted’, then I would have considered this story’s message to be harmful or offensive. But, Libby’s journey is all about self-love. Rarely do we see her tearing herself down—instead, we see her tearing off the labels her peers try to stick on her. I found Holding Up the Universe to be uplifting and inspiring. It’s a story about body positivity and acceptance—acceptance of ourselves and others and the flawed nature of humanity (because we all have secrets and insecurities and demons.) It’s a story about learning to see people for who they really are, learning how to stay in your own lane, and learning how to not be a shitty person (Jack’s words, not mine).
“We’ve all got something. We’re all weird and damaged in our own way. You’re not the only one.”
I loved the hell out of this book, and that says a lot because I’m not crazy about YA Contemporary Romance at the moment. Holding Up the Universe is an honest, thought-provoking story about learning to love yourself and others with the weight of loss (and the universe) on your shoulders. I highly recommend it to all readers. Holding Up the Universe is one of those inspiring, feel-good stories that you just need in your life.
I give Holding Up the Universe five weird and damaged stars that deserve to be seen.
“You are wanted. Big, small, tall, short, pretty, plain, friendly, shy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Not even yourself.”
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