Holding Up the Universe


Title: Holding Up the Universe

Author: Jennifer Niven

Series: N/A

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Release Date: October 4th 2016


Four Stars

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, 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 counselling 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.

– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com

My Thoughts On…

…The Plot

“Dear friend, You are not a freak. You are wanted. You are necessary. You are the only you there is. Don’t be afraid to leave the castle. It’s a great big world out there. Love, a fellow reader.”

After being cut out of her home three years ago Libby is ready to go back to high school; she’s lost weight, seen counsellors about what caused her to overeat, and has a new brand of confidence. She’s ready to go back to school again and sees it as the start of her new life, a life where she can be a normal teenager; have friends, join the Damsels, and maybe even fall in love.

But the teenagers she meets in high school are not as open minded as Libby herself is. They define her by her weight and while some reach out to Libby and become her friends there are more who push her away and see her weight as an excuse to bully her and call her names. Libby is determined not to let them get her down though; until she becomes the victim in a cruel game; the fat girl rodeo.

Reacting instinctively to someone grabbing her, punching her assailant when he refuses to let go, Libby finds herself forced to attend group counselling with Jack.

“I want you to know I’m rooting for you.”
Sometimes we need to hear that, even from a stranger.

Jack doesn’t want to take part in the fat girl rodeo and he doesn’t want to grab Libby, but he doesn’t feel he has another option. Jack has his own secret, and he is determined to protect it even if it means lying to everyone in his life, being a jerk, and making himself miserable to survive high school. Libby is the first person Jack reveals himself to when he apologises the only way he can while still saving face in front of his peers

The more time they spend together though the more Jack and Libby find themselves drawn to one another as they face the things that are still haunting them. However still stuck in high school, surrounded by people who judge them based on their appearance or what they think of them, it’s hard for Jack and Libby to make a difference even if it’s just in their own lives.

…The Characters

“Here’s the worst thing of it,” I say. “You know how far I’ve come and I know how far I’ve come, but everyone else just sees me for how large I am or where I was years ago, not who I am now.”

Libby has come so far from the girl who was named ‘America’s Fattest Teen’. She has such self confidence in herself and her body and is determined not to let anyone take that away from her. She fights against the anxiety attacks that always seem to haunt her and fights against the stereotypes other people place on  her because of her weight. However despite the self confidence there is still a part of Libby that fears being trapped in her home again, trapped by her weight.

“Right now, I’m looking at a gang of villagers – faces identical – armed with clubs and torches, ready to chase Frankenstein’s monster off a cliff. Only I’m the monster.”

Jack suffers from prosopagnosia which is the inability to recognize people’s faces. No one knows the truth about his condition, not his family and not his school mates, and Jack is determined to keep it that way. He hangs out with the popular kids, dates the most popular girl in school, and acts like a jerk all as a form of self defence.

I’ve only read one other books that features a main character with prosopagnosia, but in Holding Up the Universe Jack’s struggle seemed a lot more serious and a lot more real. He doesn’t live with it, he suffers through it, trying to get through every day keeping this secret from his friends and family while wondering what it is that makes his brain work differently to everyone else’s.

“Somewhere in this school could be a boy I fall in love with. One of these fine young men might be the one who at long last claims my heart and my body. I’m looking at all the boys going by. It could be that guy or maybe this one.”

Individually both Jack and Libby were amazing characters but the romance between them just seemed pointless to me. You could keep Jack and Libby as friends and this story wouldn’t change much at all; their journeys and their struggles would be exactly the same.

Jennifer Niven has written an amazing story with two amazing characters; you’ll feel for them and their struggles as they navigate high school and the people they meet there. Holding Up the Universe was the first book by Jennifer Niven I read but it definitely won’t be the last. I’ve already added her first novel to my to-read list.

What did you think of Holding Up the Universe? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.

33 thoughts on “Holding Up the Universe

  1. This is like the ONE contemporary book that I really really want to read badly. It looks interesting and I want to see what it’s like to not know people’s faces: I saw an example of a case like that on House and it was fascinating. The people looked similar to the people he knew but not the same. I know it would be so hard to live like that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a really good contemporary book, and I thought it explored the condition of not being able to recognise peoples faces quite well too so if that’s something you’re looking for I’d recommend this book Stephanie.
      I used to watch House all the time but I don’t remember that episode. It’s possible I just watched it so long ago I can’t remember it but yeah it can’t be easy having a condition like that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s not the diagnosis in the episode, but it’s when the original three were on the show…we see him looking at three doctors, and the patient looks confused, and the voices are the same but the actors are completely different. I’ll have to find the episode but it was the first time I had ever heard of that condition.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review! Niven has been making quite a name for herself. Glad to hear her latest book didn’t disappoint you. Got to say that I NEVER thought I’d hear of a book with a character that has prosopagnosia. I thought it would be something I learn at school and never hear about again. I like that the author uses these problems to raise awareness and have readers connect with all these characters with their own issues.

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Lashaan. I can see why she’s been making a name for herself because her books are really amazing. I just finished reading All the Bright Places and I’m still kind of left reeling from it.
      It’s the second book I’ve read about a character with prosopagnosia but I know what you mean because it does seem a rare thing to find in books. Still it’s great to see authors highlighting these issues and raising awareness. Hopefully there’ll be plenty more diverse reads out there in 2017! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this and it’s been on my TBR for a while because of that. It’s good to hear that you enjoyed. Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of Jennifer Niven’s debut novel but with everything I’m hearing about Holding Up the Universe it seems like something I could really like. I love that the main character is a fighter and tries not to let other people get her down. It sucks that the romance felt pointless but I’ve never read a book that has a character with prosopagnosia in it before so that’s interesting. I’ll definitely have to pick this one up for myself in the future. Great review, Beth! 💕😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a brilliant books so I can see why you’ve heard great things about it. I’d recommend picking it up when you have a chance.
      I haven’t started All the Bright Places but it’s next on my to-read list. I’m not sure what to expect but I dunno maybe that’s the best way to go into this book.
      Libby is an amazing character, honestly there needs to be more characters like her in YA contemporary fiction. On the other hand maybe there could be less romance in these kind of books. I’d like to see a YA contemporary novel where the two characters stay as friends.
      The prosopagnosia is an interesting condition to see in a YA book, and it was great learning more about it too.
      I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did Melissa, and thanks! 😀 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would definitely recommend going into it blind. I think with all of the hype over it after its release my expectations were really high and it just didn’t meet them. Then again I think with All the Bright Places it was very much me and not the book because I know so many people who have loved it. I hope you enjoy it and I can’t wait to see your thoughts!
        I completely agree with you. There does need to be more characters like Libby and books with no romance. I mean I love romance a lot in books but sometimes it just doesn’t feel right with the story. I think it’s rare that I’ve come across a book with just friendships.
        I hope so too and you’re welcome Beth!! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well I’m probably going to do that anyway. I have no clue what All the Bright Places is about, I haven’t even read the blurb yet, and I don’t plan to find out before picking up the book shortly. I hope I enjoy it as well, and hopefully I’ll be able to share my review soon as well so you’ll be able to see what I think when I’ve finished it.
        Well this book definitely had amazing characters, I guess it just felt like the romance came out of nowhere a little and then it wasn’t given as much development as the characters. That’s why I felt a friendship would have been better between Jack and Libby than a romance.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful review, Beth! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this book, and I understand your point about the romance being a bit pointless. I agree that it wasn’t completely necessary to add this to the lot, simple friendship would have been just fine as well; I loved the evolution of the characters ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much Marie! ❤ It's a great book but yeah I felt the story and the characters could have progressed just as well without the romance. In fact I almost think it would have been better if Jack and Libby stayed just friends.
      The character development of the two individually was perfect though, I agree! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This sounds really good, although the romance thing seems a little bit frustrating! I suppose the author does have to pander to certain different audiences though.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m glad to see that you enjoyed this one, Beth! I love Libby’s character so much; she was so strong and brave and committed to self-love, and that’s very important.

    I also agree that the romance was slightly pointless, and as I probably have mentioned before, I question/dislike that Libby became an “exception” to Jack’s prosopagnosia. I felt like it romanticised his condition and shouldn’t have happened that way, but perhaps your read is different.

    What was that other book you read where the character also has prosopagnosia? I wasn’t aware there were others (but of course there would be, silly me). 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Reg. Yeah it’s a great book, I’m glad I picked it up in the end! 🙂
      Libby is definitely one of the best female characters I’ve read in a YA contemporary book. Honestly there need to be more characters like her out there. 😀
      Yeah that part felt kind of rushed. I know there are cases where there are exceptions to people’s prosopagnosia but you’re right this felt more like a way to romanticise Jack’s condition than anything else. I guess as well with the rushed romance between him and Libby in the book it felt too much you know?
      The other book was Bone Gap. It’s a good story but I guess with Finn in Bone Gap the prosopagnosia wasn’t a major part the story, and it didn’t focus on the medical sides of the condition like it did in this book.


      1. Yeah, I agree. It was a bit too much for me as well and just came across as unrealistic/forced, which is unfortunate… but thankfully everything else works nicely. 🙂

        I didn’t realise Bone Gap explores prosopagnosia as well! I just thought it was a magical realism book and so deals with, hmm, magical realism, I suppose.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No I know what you mean about it coming across as forced/unrealistic. Their relationship just literally seemed to come right out of the blue.Like one minute it was there when before it’s like there was no hint of it!
        I wouldn’t say it explores it in the way this book does, but it is there and it’s another way of looking at the condition as well.Kind of a more magical realism way if that makes sense? 🙂


      3. That’s how I feel too! Like I didn’t notice they were crushing on each other until they were kind of full-on, haha. I guess the development was not as subtle as it could be.

        Yesss, that makes sense. I hope to check it out for myself one day. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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