Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (4th Oct 2016)
Format/Source: ARC (received a copy from MPH Distributors)
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.
I remembered being really excited for Jennifer Niven’s debut novel, All the Bright Places when the book community went crazy for it. And I remembered squealing with excitement when I first got my hands on it. But then, the worst happened, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Niven’s writing – it was beautiful – and every word was dripping with emotion, but I guess All the Bright Places wasn’t for me.
Fast forward 7 months, I flipped the last page of Holding Up the Universe and I was left speechless.
Speechless because of the marvel that I just read.
Speechless because I expected to be blown away, only to be swept away by the brilliance that is Jennifer Niven.
“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”
I admit, I did have some reservations before I started on Holding Up the Universe because I had friends on Goodreads that wrote it off because the original blurb was offensive. Well, they changed it before I got the chance to read the blurb so I guess the only way to find out whether I enjoy the book is to read it. Thank you all the fluffy pandas and sugared cookies in the world because I absolutely loved Holding Up the Universe!
Holding Up the Universe follows the story of the main characters, Jack and Libby. Jack has a condition, one that only he knows because everything in his life will change if people found out that he can’t recognise faces, even his parents’ and brothers’. Think of all the things that could possibly go wrong. Libby was once known as the fattest teen in America. She let the grief get the best of her after her Mum’s death. But now, Libby is ready for a fresh start in high school and she won’t let her past get in her way of being the Girl Who Can Do Anything.
“It’s my experience that the people who are most afraid are the ones who hide behind mean and threatening words.”
Before I read Holding Up the Universe, I had never heard of the term “prosopagnosia”. Jack Masselin has prosopagnosia and he can’t recognise faces. Instead, he relies on identifiers or traits of a person to recognise them. Reading Holding Up the Universe was definitely an eye-opener for me because this foreign medical condition deeply intrigued me. It also scared me. Niven took a leap of faith and wrote a story that highlights this mental condition and I must commend her for her extensive research because I felt that prosopagnosia was dealt with very well in Holding Up the Universe. Jack was a character that I was interested to read about and his side of the story was such a complex and multi-layered one.
I’d also like to proclaim my love for Jack’s little brother, Dusty who is such a sweetheart and all-around star. That is all. I love you, little guy.
I loved Libby’s character because she has this “can’t be fucked with your shit” attitude in life after all that she’s gone through. High school boys being complete jerks are nothing more than immature dicks who need to grow up. I loved the fact that Niven wrote a character that is so comfortable being herself, so proud and confident that she’s her own person and no one can say or do anything to make her feel less of herself. Despite her cool and confident exterior, I liked that Niven wrote about her insecurities and showed a vulnerable side of Libby.
“It’s about the important things, like the way their face lights up when they laugh, or the way they move as they’re walking towards you, or the way their freckles create a map of the stars.”
As expected, Niven’s writing is still as poetic and beautiful as it was in All the Bright Places, if not more. It’s laced with such truth, honesty and heart that every line needs to be cherished. The dialogues in the book are heartfelt, hilarious and witty – I couldn’t get enough of Libby and Jack’s banter.
All in all, the message presented in Holding Up the Universe is simple. Love yourself because you’re a beautiful being. This book made me think about so many things in life, including how I have opinions of people based on meeting them, how I easily jump to conclusions without finding out the real reason behind something, how I am afraid of what people think of me and the list goes on. Holding Up the Universe is a book that needs to be read. It’s powerful and inspiring and I urge to read it.
I’d like to thank MPH Distributors for an ARC of Holding Up the Universe.
All quotes from the book were taken from the ARC.