Author: Jennifer Niven
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Source: Penguin via NetGalley
From the author of the New York Times bestseller All the Bright Places comes a heart-wrenching story about what it means to see someone—and love someone—for who they truly are.Review by Nara
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 in new and bad-ass ways, 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.
Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are—and seeing them right back.
Even after the ridiculous controversy about the original "offensive" blurb (which they've changed quite a bit, likely because of the controversy), I was very excited to read Jennifer Niven's most recent novel. All the Bright Places was one of the stand out contemporaries of last year, for the fantastic characters and for the author's bold choices. I can definitely say that Holding Up the Universe was a great follow up, having most of those elements that made All the Bright Places so good.
It's always interesting reading books where the characters have some degree of obesity, because on one hand, there are great messages about self-esteem and body image, but on the other hand, if the obesity is on the BMI 40+ spectrum, it actually is quite bad for your health and you probably should be losing some weight. I think the balance was well done in Holding Up the Universe. Libby isn't proud of her initial body weight, which I think is quite reasonable considering she literally had to be lifted out of her house with a crane, but has become more accepting by the time she goes back to attending school and is on the less severe end of the spectrum.
Jack was also quite well developed, and it was incredibly intriguing to read how his prosopagnosia (inability to recognise faces) has affected his life. I found it hard to understand why he wouldn't let his family know about his condition- they definitely could have helped him with the problem. I'm not really sure what school is like in America, but in Australia these days, going by my school experience, I feel like the other students would probably actually be somewhat accepting as well. Then again, fictional schools aren't necessarily like the ones in real life, and it does depend on what neighbourhood you grow up in and all that. On the other hand, very realistic was his approach to peer pressure, and how he did a lot of stupid things because he was afraid to be judged by his friends. This is definitely something that is seen even in schools today, and while you're kind of disappointed by Jack's actions, you can understand why he does the things that he does.
Overall, Holding Up the Universe was a fantastic read that looked at a lot of the issues that face the younger generation today. It's certainly one I can recommend, particularly if you enjoyed Niven's previous book.
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