Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

October 11, 2016 Reviews 23 ★★★★½

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer NivenHolding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on 10/4/16
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 400
Source: BEA
My content rating: YA (Some talk of sex, Bullying)
My rating:
4.5 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 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.

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My Take copy3

Holding Up the Universe is an incredibly complex story about the struggle for self-acceptance and the strength that can come from knowing exactly who you are. This book is painfully beautiful. (But, don’t worry, it’s not as painful as Niven’s last book. Your heart may be torn to shreds in certain moments, but you won’t have to then proceed to stomp on it.)

 What Fed My Addiction:

  • Jack’s struggle with face blindness. I think that I had vaguely heard of prosopagnosia (face blindness) before, but I didn’t know much about it. I didn’t realize how prevalent it was and I certainly had never thought about what it would be like to live with it. Imagine a life where you don’t recognize anyone’s face, even the faces of the people in your immediate family. Where every moment is a guessing game, and you constantly fear embarrassing yourself because you’ve made a mistake. Imagine looking in a mirror and not recognizing the person there. This is Jack’s life, and reading about it was fascinating in an incredibly sad way. Jack has spent his life feeling broken and trying desperately to hang onto a shred of normalcy. He clings to the people in his life that he can most easily recognize (by traits like their hair, birthmarks, etc—not because he actually recognizes them), hoping that they will simply fill in the blanks for him when necessary. He often comes off as cool and aloof because he has to speak to people in a vague way when he doesn’t know who he’s talking to. He’s come up with defense mechanisms, but employing them is exhausting. I found it easy to sympathize with Jack because of all of this.
  • The romance. It’s refreshing to see a romance involving a plus-sized girl without her feeling like she has to lose weight to earn it. Even though most people around her only see Libby’s weight, Jack notices her because of her larger than life personality. He sees that she’s brave enough to stand up for what she believes in, that she’s tough (but also kind in most circumstances), and that she doesn’t shrink away from the spotlight to avoid bullying. Libby doesn’t like Jack at first, but she can’t help but feel a little drawn to him once she learns his secret, and as she spends more time with him she discovers that he isn’t who she thought he was. Realistically, there’s a bit of doubt on both sides about their feelings, so the relationship builds slowly … but steadily.
  • Strong friendships. Libby felt really isolated for years when she was younger, but once she opens herself up enough to let others in, she develops some wonderful friendships—girls who stand by her and appreciate her but also occasionally call her out when she needs it. (I was particularly thankful for a Christian character who was kind instead of judgmental, even if she wasn’t always perfect.)

What Left Me Hungry for More:

  • Jack’s motivation behind his secret. I didn’t completely understand why Jack kept his condition a secret. Supposedly, he didn’t want to burden his parents further, and I guess when it came to his friends, he was afraid they’d look at him like a freak or something, but it seemed like he would have confided in someone before now.

Fans of Niven will not be disappointed with her second YA book. Personally, I loved seeing both Jack and Libby come to terms with who they are and embrace it! I give this book 4.5/5 stars. 

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via #BEA16 in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

About the Author:

Jennifer NivenBy the time I was ten, I had already written numerous songs, a poem for Parker Stevenson (“If there were a Miss America for men, You would surely win”), two autobiographies (All About Me and My Life in Indiana: I Will Never Be Happy Again), a Christmas story, several picture books (which I illustrated myself) featuring the Doodle Bugs from Outer Space, a play about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s sister entitled Blindness Strikes Mary, a series of prison mysteries, a collection of short stories featuring me as the main character (an internationally famous rock star detective), and a partially finished novel about Vietnam. I was also an excellent speller from a very early age.

In 2000, I started writing full-time, and I haven’t stopped… I’ve written nine books (#9 will be out Oct 4, 2016), and when I’m not working on the tenth, I’m writing the screenplay for All the Bright Places, contributing to my web magazine, Germ (www.germmagazine.com), thinking up new books, and dabbling in TV. I am always writing.


Author Links:
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23 Responses to “Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven”

  1. Rowena

    I just read another review of this book and I thought I was convinced after reading that review but your review was just as awesome and it’s a done deal. I’m so going to get this book.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Gay

    I just finished reading this book and I loved it! Great review Nicole. I agree with your assessment of Jack keeping his condition a secret for as long as he did. It also seemed a little strange to me that his family never noticed anything. But knowing that the author has someone in her family with this condition, maybe she is talking from experience. I am looking forward to whatever she writes next!

    • Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

      The two books aren’t related in any way, so you can read them in either order. Personally, I ADORED AtBP, so I loved it even a teensy bit more than this one, but AtBP is a different sort of book. It is a rip your heart out kind of book that really sheds light on mental health issues—this one also sheds light on issues, but it’s not quite as misery-inducing. 🙂

    • Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

      Yes, it does seem strange that no one noticed. You’d think that, after a few obvious mistakes, people would start to think something was up. But most people don’t even really know about face blindness, so I guess they wouldn’t necessarily jump to that conclusion—they would just think he’s occasionally acting weird, maybe.

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