Book Review: Holding Up The Universe

Title: Holding Up The Universe

Author: Jennifer Niven

Genre: YA / Romance

Pages: 391

Rating: ★★★★★

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. 

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. 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.

Holding Up The Universe is a beautifully written, heart-warming novel that will keep you engaged until you turn the last page. Jennifer Niven really knows how to pull on the ol’ heartstrings and how to deal out all the feels.

This book made my heart feel warm and even a little fuzzy, because the theme of this story is that each of us matters.

This is a story filled with hope, drama, and love – and it has gone straight into my pile of favourite books of all time.

The writing style is lovely. The words flow naturally, the descriptions are accurate, and the whole world feels very realistic. I really enjoyed the short chapters and the dual-perspective – it was awesome to see the contrasts between Libby and Jack and what they were going through at different points in the story. I loved the lists and the way that the chapters jumped between different weeks and years. Even though the time jumped around a lot, it was never confusing or difficult to follow, it just added more depth to the story and to the characters.

Libby and Jack are intriguing characters who come to life on the page. They both feel like they could be someone you know. Libby is courageous, sassy, and funny.

I loved the way that Jennifer Niven contrasted Libby’s internal thoughts and feelings with her actions.

There are so many times when she is mortified, embarrassed, or upset, but she is always so strong. She stands up to the bullies at school, and she stands up to the system — and it’s awesome (think purple bikini).

I think Libby is quite an admirable character – of course she makes a lot of mistakes and she does some dumb things, but she is so kind and strong… AND I THINK SHE’S AMAZING AND I WOULD HAVE BEEN HER FRIEND IN HIGH SCHOOL. And she can dance. As in, really well.

Jack, on the other hand, irked me quite a lot of the time. He’s kind of a jerk! But I guess he has his reasons. He suffers from prosopagnosia, a condition which means that he cannot recognise anyones face – even the people in his own family. Jack deals with his condition by refusing to get close to anyone, and by acting like some kind of aloof badass. He has a pretty high opinion of himself which is at times funny but mostly kind of annoying.

I think that Jack is a metaphor for the pressure that everyone, but particularly teenagers, face to fit in at school or in life in general.

Jack is a flawed character, and that’s what makes him so interesting. He isn’t a bad person, but he does bad, even cruel things to fit in with his peers. His entire life is a facade, except for a few delicate moments with certain characters. My favourite thing about Jack is the way that he deals with his younger brother – it’s very sweet (and it was nice to have a bit of gender diversity thrown in to the mix too).

One thing that I didn’t like too much was that it sort of felt like the ‘conditions’ that Libby  and Jack were facing were their main personality traits, i.e. Libby’s obescity and Jack’s face-blindness. Obviously, both of these things were huge issues in their lives and so it’s understandable that this was their main focus. Libby gets bullied for being overweight and Jack is struggling and trying to deal with his face-blindness all by himself. But sometimes I wanted a little bit more depth than just, ‘oh she’s fat’ and, ‘oh he’s face-blind’. It would have been good to see a little bit more of who they were beyond those issues.

Before this book was even released, there was a lot of controversy because people read the blurb and thought it was a fat-shaming story. I just want to make it clear that it’s not like that at all! Yes, there are some terrible things, particularly bullies, that Libby has to deal with because she’s overweight, but the message of the story is one of hope. Libby isn’t just an overweight girl – she’s a girl who is larger than life itself. Jennifer Niven said that she has struggled with her weight for a lot of her life, and I think that helped to make what Libby was dealing with seem so realistic.

The whole point of this book is to let you know that you are loved, needed, wanted, right now – as you are.

Holding Up The Universe is all about celebrating our differences and what makes us unique, rather than what makes us fit into the rest of society. This theme was powerful and wonderful, and I loved it.

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