Book review · novel

Book review: Holding Up the Universe

Holding Up the Universe, by Jennifer Niven

cover-jpg-rendition-460-707Description: (from Penguin UK )

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 see who she really is. Since her mum’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. 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 art of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a 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 own 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, Libby and Jack are both angry, 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.

A review copy (eARC) of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley. Some things might change in the final copy.

I don’t read a lot of Young Adult, and I haven’t read Jennifer Nilen’s All the Bright Places, but I heard great things about Holding Up the Universe recently and also really bad things at first when the synopsis was released. I thought I should see for myself so I requested it on a whim on netgalley and had the nice surprise to be approved for this one (and The Sun is Also a Star at the same time, that I’m still reading at the moment!)

“another, no one looks as shiny and polished as they do in the TV and movie versions of high school. Real teens aren’t twenty-five years old. We have bad skin and bad hair and good skin and good hair and we’re all different shapes and sizes. I like us better than our TV selves, even though sitting here, I feel like an actor playing a part. I’m the fish out of water, the new girl at school. What will my story be?”

I read Holding Up the Universe in one evening, it was a quick and nice read. Of course sometimes it was tough because there was bullying, characters dealing with grief, family drama and hard choices. But I’m super glad I took the time to read it.

The characters aren’t perfect, but that’s not an issue. They are teenagers and nobody’s perfect, especially during those difficult years and especially seeing what they have to deal with. Libby is just so nice, she went through so much and has an approach to life that is remarkable, I was really struck by her strength of character. Jack learns a lot thanks to Libby and they learn to trust each other in an original way. Libby is one of these people who had a super hard life but instead of being mean back to the world, she tries to embrace it and be as positive as possible. Jack is nice deep down, but he acts like a jerk at times to protect himself, and the thing is that he knows that and is willing to change, to be his best self.

“I try to sound like I don’t really give a shit, but here’s the thing—I do give a shit. I give five million shits, which is why I feel like I’m going to be sick all over these Legos.”

Some things felt too much at times, or repetitive even. Like when Jack says that he doesn’t recognize his parents and he keeps telling that this woman must be his mother while they are in their house but this is his house so yes that is not a hard guess! But all the criticism I can find for this book are details, details that were small enough that I still enjoyed this story deeply.
Some other details that I loved: how Jack loves his hair (awesome afro), how he supports his little brother who wants to carry a purse to school, supernatural references, feels everywhere, girls standing up to each other, speeches about self-worth…
Even with all the heavy themes, Holding Up the Universe still felt like a light-read at times and left me with a smile on my face.

The author based Libby on an actual person she knows and made a lot of research on prosopagnosia. I trust it was written with the best possible intentions and I did felt these intentions when reading. I never felt like Niven was trying to reduce her characters to their situation. In my opinion, it is normal that when someone has a disability or is overweigh and that makes their life at school/in general difficult, it is something they’ll think a lot about and that will affect their decisions and their topics of discussion. So of course the story dwelt a lot on these issues, but I found it done in a sensible way. I giggled, smiled a lot, got angry, almost cried.. It was really a beautiful story. And that is what it is, a fiction that I enjoyed and totally recommend.

Plus, this book made me want to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (I know it’s the biggest of classics, I even own a super nice edition of it, I WILL read it someday!).

I know this book deals with a lot of issues, if you think I misunderstood some things or was blind to some deeper issues, please do not hesitate to comment. I’m totally open to other point of views, as long as we all stay respectful.

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