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.
I knew as soon as I got my hands on this novel that it would not be long before I finished it. I finished this book in two days, and while how quickly you finish a book does not matter, I think that it is a pretty good indicator on how the book made you feel. For example, I finished this book so quickly not because I wanted to, but because it was hard for me to put it down. When I wasn’t reading it, I wanted to read it, and that’s all I thought about.
Jennifer Niven is hands down one of my favorite contemporary young adult authors, and her writing is so beautiful and well-crafted–I admire her so much as a writer and she inspires me to create genuine and likable characters in my own works, and to also write about stories that matter and need to be told.
Jack and Libby are flawed characters–there’s no denying that, but through these characters Niven teachers her readers a lesson that I think a lot of people need to learn–how to love people for who they are and to accept every part of them, even the parts that are hard to like.
I thought it was interesting that what troubled Jack (his prosopagnosia) could not be seen by others, but how he dealt with said trouble affected his behavior towards his peers. But Libby’s flaw is the inability to love and accept herself for who she is, which I think a lot of people can relate to. Furthermore, her flaw stems from years of bullying and torment from her peers because of her weight.
I think Holding Up the Universe is a book that every one should read, particularly those still in high school, because you’re reading from two different perspectives that detail both sides of bullying. Growing up, I was constantly told that individuals who bullied others were dealing with internal struggles and probably didn’t like the person he or she was, which I think was portrayed quite nicely through Jack’s character.
Even if you haven’t read her other YA novel All the Bright Places (which you should probably do—you’re only depriving yourself), definitely consider checking out Holding Up the Universe. And if you have read her first novel, then you should most definitely read this one. There’s no doubt in my mind you’ll fall in love with Jack and Libby the same way you fell in love with Finch and Violet.
Leave a comment below if you’ve read either book by Jennifer Niven and what you thought 🙂 They’re two of my all-time favorite novels, so I’d love to chat about them!
Goodreads rating: 4.04/5
Dee’s rating: 5/5