Title: Holding Up the Universe
Author: Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 4th 2016
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.