Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven– 400 pages
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.
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, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. 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.
My Review: 3.5 stars
Holding Up The Universe is the follow up work to Jennifer Niven’s best selling book that’s being made into a movie, All The Bright Places. Like her first book, this too is in the YA genre and involves two kids dealing with their own demons. In one case it’s obesity and in the other its prosopagnosia (face blindness).
Little did I know, that even before the publication of this book, reviewers and early readers were in an all out tizzy over the blurb on inside flap of the book. Apparently many thought it was offensive for saying that Jack felt he was “broken” because of his face blindness and Libby felt she wasn’t part of the “human race”. Literally there was an attack on twitter about the offensiveness of this blurb. The final jacket cover has since been changed but I found all this quite amusing.
The book itself read quickly and like her earlier work, was told from two alternating POVs of the main characters. I found many similarities in both books, but while All The Bright Places left me in tears, this book left me with a smile. Anytime characters can transform to be the better version of themselves, it’s a good message being sent. I liked how the main character’s relationship blossomed and seemed relatable in today’s day and age.
I am no expert at face blindness and found myself intrigued about it. What fell short for me was his not knowing his own parents and siblings. I’d make an assumption that he’d know his immediate family by their voices and their living in his house. I think the author should’ve trusted the reader to know this.
This book brings a lot of teenage angst and issues to a head: Appearance, weight, friends and foes, bullies, loss, loneliness, fitting in, being popular, trying out for things, first loves, driving, social media and more.
What was most important in the book is about looking on the inside of people and not on the outside. This story is reminiscent of Wonder regarding the importance of this lesson. Cool or not cool, we should all be ourselves and search for the true self in others. In a nutshell, the book reminds us that we’ve all got something and whether we choose to share it or hide it, it’s never ok to judge someone else.
Quotes I liked:
This is what I know about loss. It doesn’t get better. You just get (somewhat) used to it.”
-“You might not want to burn your bridges when you’re standing on an island.”