Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on 10/4/16
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
My content rating: YA (Some talk of sex, Bullying)
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.
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:
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.
I am really excited for this one. I loved her last book so I think I will like this. Happy to see you enjoyed it! Great review!!
Yes, if you’re a fan of Niven, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
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!
Yay! I’m glad I could convince you because I think this is a fantastic book!
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!
Yeah, that seemed weird to me too. It seems like there would have been enough mix-ups that someone should have realized something was going on.
This sounds like a great read. I still haven’t read All the Bright Places so maybe I should read that one first before Holding Up the Universe? If I survive it, that is. lol
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. 🙂
This does sound like a good read! I’ve heard of facial blindess, but never read about it a book. I think that would be fascinating.
Apparently, Niven has a cousin and uncle who have prosopagnosia, so she has some direct knowledge of it.
Lovely review! I’ve never read Niven’s books but this is the second positive review that now I’m curious to read it!
I obviously highly recommend it!
This sounds wonderful. Sad…but wonderful. Great review!
It’s definitely sad in places, but it’s not a tear-jerker like Niven’s last book was. It’s more that these characters are in some frustratingly sad situations.
Great review! I completely agree that I didn’t quite understand why Jack wanted to keep his face blindness a secret. If it was me I would want all the help I could get. I also don’t quite understand how his parents didn’t notice he was struggling.
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.
I just finished All the Bright Places, and Jennifer Niven is such a talented writer. I’m looking forward to this one.
AtBP was AMAZING, so I had high hopes for this book. It didn’t let me down!
The character has such a weird affliction. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of it before. Can’t wait to check it out for myself. 🙂
I’d never heard of facial blindness before. That would be fascinating to read, and yay for body-positivity! I’ll definitely be putting this one on my TBR.
The thing that fed my addiction about this book must have been its cover. So calming at first but sad as I know the story.
You know, I hadn’t heard of prosopagnosia before today! I cannot imagine going through like like that. I love how this story has a confident plus sized girl in it too! And I’m a little muffed why Jack would keep it a secret too…
I haven’t read anything by Jennifer Niven yet but I’ve heard really great things! And my sister really liked All the Bright Places. Hopefully I get to read one of them soon.