Review: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Release Date: October 6th 2016
Published By: Penguin / Knopf (US)
Goodreads: Add it to your reading list
Purchase: Booktopia The Book Depository

Rating: 4 out of 5

Synopsis: 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 see who she really is. Since her mum’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. 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 art of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a 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 own 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, Libby and Jack are both angry, 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.



The truth is often confronting and beautiful and messy… and so is Holding up the Universe.

Beauty, truth, secrets, confrontation, emotion… realness.

It is all within this book.

The story follows Libby, a girl who is returning to school. Sounds like a normal situation right? Well, not so much. Libby used to be the largest teen in America, and while she may no longer be the girl who had to be rescued from her house, she is still a large girl who is not used to socialising or being at school. She has replaced her need to constantly eat to fill a hole in her soul and make-believe friends for healthy eating, appropriate mental care and returning to a mainstream high-school experience.

She is strong. But she isn’t unbreakable. She knows this will be a struggle. And although she now happy with herself and her size, she knows she isn’t the “ideal girl” or the “ideal weight” and she also knows that humans generally suck and this will be an issue for her. She is prepared. She is ready. And she is even sometimes a little self-deprecating. But she is ready.

And then she meets Jack.

Jack is your stereotypical high school boy - good looking, popular… and a bit of an ass.

But Jack has his own struggles. Mainly, he struggles to recognise people’s faces. He doesn’t even recognise his own family. He has been self-diagnosed as having prosopagnosia, and not even the people he should recognise, those closest to him, have any idea,

But how could you not recognise Libby Strout? She is so big that even someone who cannot recognise people faces can recognise her.

But is it possible Jack sees her for more than her size? While he cannot recognise faces, he can still see her friendliness, her warmth, the sunshine in her smile and her dancing eyes, and more importantly, her big and beautiful soul.

Jack and Libby start to become friends there are many trials and tribulations.Their first encounter with each other was far from pleasant, then there secrecy, then there is holding back, then there is falling, then… well, you will just have to read the book to find out!

Neither Jack nor Libby are perfect. They both have flaws - neither of which has anything to do with weight or prosopagnosia, but more to do with the fact that they are human. They aren’t perfect, they make mistakes. Jack is an ass to hide his secret, and Libby taunts herself so others don’t have to. They are human - beautiful, awful, warm, confident, hurtful, horrible, forgiving, self-loathing, loving. At the end of the day, Jack or Libby could be you or I, the next door neighbour, the person walking down the street,.. Jack and Libby could by any one of us - they are real

Bullying is certainly a theme in this book. It has examples on how stupid comments are often thrown and stupid things are done around in the name of “being funny” or “being cool” - and sadly it was all too easy how these issues were brought into the story - how real they were. Bullying is a real thing in the world, and it is quite often done without the intent to actually hurting someone.

And that is why Libby is a such a great character. She is often the target of bullying, either a little comment here, or a blatant attack there, it is something that happens on regular basis. But Libby fights back. She doesn’t necessarily do it to stand up for herself, sometimes it is a mechanism of self-preservation against future attacks, but whatever the reason, she makes a stand. And not only is this a good thing for her, but for others around her.

I am a huge fan of Jennifer’s after reading All the Bright Places. That book totally ripped my heart out and I connected with it on a very real and personal level. And while I did not connect with Holding up the Universe on the same level, I cannot say I couldn’t relate to it. While I have never been so big I had to be rescued from a house, nor do I suffer from prosopagnosia , but I can certainly relate to the characters struggles in this story. Jennifer has an amazing ability to show you all layers of a character with her skillful writing, highlighting the real and relatable issues they are struggling with in an honest way and you will son find yourself in a wonderfully complex world of messy human emotions.

Life is short, so go and read this book. There is definitely something for everyone in these pages. Jennifer’s amazing ability to write real and compelling characters, to rip-your heart out with the realness of emotions, to showcase the messiness of humans that are flawed and beautiful, scared and confident are all here. There are horrible moments, there are sweet moments, there a moments of self-doubt and moments of secrecy. Holding up the Universe is filled with self-doubt, control, confusion, openness, friendship, love and loss - there is heartbreak, tears, achievement, self-realisation and it is filled with love and acceptance of all levels.



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