Holding Up The Universe

Holding Up The Universe
Written by Jennifer Niven
Contemporary, Social Issues
Expected Publication October 4th 2016
368 Pages
★★★★☆
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.

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 reengineer 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.
Tomorrow is Libby Strout's first day of school since the fifth grade and she plans on dancing her way into the new life she desperately deserves. Once labelled as America's Fattest Teen, Libby has spent the last three years surviving after needing to be rescued from her home, filmed as a spectacle for the American public. After her mother passed away suddenly, Libby turned to eating to fill the gnawing loss in her life. Libby is determined to live her life beyond her bedroom walls and after choosing to take control of her health, will make the most of her opportunity at Martin Van Buren High School.

Jack Masselin is the handsome, popular ladies man. He's currently single but will no doubt rekindle his treacherous relationship with the fickle Caroline, because that's what is expected of him. But living his life as a stereotype is taking it's toll on Jack. He has undiagnosed Prosopagnosia, a cognitive disorder of face perception where he lacks the ability to recognise familiar faces. In a school bountiful in stereotypes, Jack uses physical Identifiers to recognise those around him, including new girl Libby.

A cruel game of Fat Girl Rodeo will bring both Jack and Libby together in more ways than one. Both Jack and Libby will begin to understand the anguish of being an outcast, something neither need to go through alone.

My Thoughts

Holding Up The Universe was a candid and often confronting storyline of those who have been labelled and ostracised from their peers. It was beautifully written with compassion and conviction for those who aren't what society accepts as perfect, rather than to celebrate our differences.

Libby isn't an overweight girl, she's larger than life. A girl whose health had declined after the death of her mother at the tender age of eleven. She lived a meagre existence by being restricted to the confines of her bedroom, home schooled due to her weight gain and relying on imaginary friendships with the neighbourhood children. Until a health scare sees Libby labelled as America's Fattest Teen and made into a spectacle. Now three years later, Libby has taken control of her health and is determined to enjoy the adolescent experience. Attending school. Meeting new friends. Even falling in love.

Libby Strout is a force to be reckoned with. She's still considered overweight by her peers but she's healthy, she's happy and taken control of her life again. Most importantly, Libby won't allow others to diminish her self confidence, especially not Jack.

Jack is living the ultimate adolescent experience. Although popular and attractive, Jack's life is a facade. Behind the charismatic personality lies a condition in which Jack has self diagnosed a cognitive disorder, where he lacks the ability to recognise familiar faces. Prosopagnosia is a debilitating condition, where sufferers use Identifiers to recognise family and friends such as sounds, physical cues and body shape. So naturally he identifies Libby as the large girl.

Jack can see Libby. He can see her impeccably long eyelashes, her warm, welcoming smile and soon he begins to see Libby beyond her weight. Although I enjoyed the tentative friendship Jack and Libby shared, I was conflicted when it came to the degrading incident that had brought the two together. Jack appeared to be little more than a coward who gave into the cruel game to protect his own reputation. There is absolutely no excuse for cruelty towards others or degradation and I can't imagine that in a non fictional circumstance, the lovely Libby would have been so forgiving.

Most readers will struggle with Jack's character, which I assume is exactly as intended. Jack represents teen pressure and the need to be accepted by our peers. He isn't a malicious person but may be painted as the villain especially for those who have faced the same torment, projecting their own teen oppressors onto that of Jack. Even as an adult, most women still suffer from insecurities and we carry the scars of our teen years that weren't particularly kind. But Jack's character seeks redemption, not willing to excuse his behaviour on his condition but to seek an understanding and acceptance of our differences. Jack isn't perfect and I applaud Jennifer Niven for creating a flawed character among young adult literature which tends to focus on the pursuit of perfection.

Libby is magnificent. I loved her character fiercely for her tenacity and moxie, for her dancing without abandon and her ability to stand up for the injustice in our world, although she's defiant not to become a poster child for fat girls. Although Libby was vulnerable to ridicule, her confidence was inspiring and may empower teens and promote greater self confidence despite our inhibitions and critical natures.

Jennifer Niven is a wonderfully accomplished author, able to invoke emotional responses in readers through realistically flawed characters. Although subjective, Libby's story is not uncommon sadly. Society places a great emphasis on the female body image and often we ourselves are our greatest critics and tend to equate happiness within ourselves with how we are perceived by others.
Life is too short to judge others. It is not our job to tell someone what they feel or who they are. Why not spend some time on yourself instead?
No truer words have been spoken.

37 comments

  1. It's great to see you, Kelly. I hope your husband is doing so much better. <3 Love this review and I can't wait for this book. I'm especially curious about Libby. It sounds like a girl we can take a lesson or two from.

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    1. He is, thank you so much Joy. Still on the mend but he's getting there.

      Libby was incredible! Jack, I could take or leave him, but she was such a beautiful character who I think most females can relate to. Most of us want to be brave and daring, but those little insecurities often hold us back. I wish I had her moxie.

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  2. Thanks for your honest thoughts. It sounds like Libby's weight was handled fairly well. It's a very sensitive subject, after all. I'm glad that she eventually gets healthy and wants to live her life. I'm curious about Jack's condition though. I've heard of this but never read a book that featured it.

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    1. Same Lauren. I'd heard about Prosopagnosia, but really wasn't sure how debilitating it was. Personally, I think Libby's weight was portrayed realistically. She was healthy when she met Jack and the romance wasn't used as a tool to cure all. I really enjoyed it.

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  3. This (& Libby)sounds wonderful! It's hard to redeem a character like Jack, although I do understand that that's usually the point - to show you can change and it sounds like the author was successful in this case.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

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    1. She did a wonderful job. I think Jack was portrayed realistically, because we know how cruel teens can be from when we were teens ourselves. Not everyone is accepting and kind and Jack represents that need for acceptance from his own peers to cover for his own insecurities. It was a wonderful read and I implore anyone who enjoys young adult to pick up a copy.

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  4. Wow, you always find books that are new to me and sound so dang good!

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    1. This one was brilliant Christy, a must read!

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  5. Ohhh I cannot wait till this is out and I can read it. IT SOUNDS AMAZING. I hope I end up liking Jack, though, because sometimes if a character starts out too awful, I can't really turn myself around to liking them??? But hopefully. <3 I do trust Niven's writing. SHE IS AMAZING. And All the Bright Places is still one of my all time favourite books in the universe.😍

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    1. By the end, I liked him a little more but still felt that what he did to Libby really wasn't forgivable in my eyes. She's a much better character than I would be, I would have strung him up by his boy parts. Jennifer Niven is totally amazing! I loved All The Bright Places too, she's magnificent!

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  6. This book, goodness, this book sounds like it's going to break my heart -- your review broke my heart! I already adore Libby and I want to like Jack, but well, let's see how that goes. I applaud the author for balancing all of these elements and still giving reader two characters they can root for.

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    1. Jack will be one of those characters that I think a lot of readers will find difficult to forgive Verushka, but Libby was fabulous! Gosh how I loved her character. I would love to see what you think of this one, really compelling reading.

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  7. I was a bit meh about All the Bright Places, but I definitely still want to give this one a try. The storyline sounds so important and applicable and that quote is GOLD. Thanks for sharing Kelly and, as always, fabulous review! <3

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    1. Thanks Zoe. I really enjoyed All The Bright Places, but know so many readers couldn't connect to the storyline. I think this one will appeal to a much wider audience, as I think we can all see ourselves in Libby, especially being females with our own insecurities.

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  8. Awesome review Kelly! And I'm glad you're back <3

    This sounds just amazing as I thought it would be (and honestly I am convinced to pick up my copy right now, but alas I cannot), and Libby seems like a great character. I love that she is putting health over her weight, and not taking shit from Jack. Jack does seem like he can be hard to like, but I completely understand the peer pressures of high school. I'm sure he'll redeem himself throughout the novel :)

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    1. Thanks sweetheart, still trying to get back into blogging but have been reading and now have a billion books to review. Ahh, the life of a book blogger.

      He does, but perhaps not quite enough to have won me over. By Libby is absolutely brilliant. One line that struck me was how she refused to become a poster girl for fat girls, after standing up for an overweight girl who didn't have the confidence to fight back. She was still willing to place herself at the ridicule of her peers without question. It just endeared me to her more.

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  9. You probably feel as if you've been holding up the universe :-( but YAY for you having a chance to post a review again :-) I definitely want to meet Libby! But I think I might want to punch Jack in the face!

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    1. Lately it seems that Sarah, but life is getting back to normal. Looking forward to a new year already. I'd love to see what you think of Jack. I did warm to him, but just couldn't forgive his character for being an asshole.

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  10. Awww thankiu for this another beautifully written review. I need to add this onto my wish list <3

    http://laxsourire.blogspot.my/

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    1. I think you'd really enjoy this one Clara, it's so wonderfully written.

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  11. Great review. this sounds like a good read. I particularly liked libby's character. She seems to be a string girl. Jack? I am not so sure. But then teen pressure etc should also be represented in literature

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    1. Even though Jack could been seen as a villain by a lot of readers, I do think it's important to show that those teen years can be among the toughest in our lives and we need more flawed and realistic characters, especially in young adult. Such a wonderful read.

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  12. Ah, as always this was a gorgeous review. Jack and Libby sound incredible, and ever since I first read about prosopagnosia I've always been interesting in reading more about it. Jennifer Niven seems like such a brilliant YA author!

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    1. She truly is Mawa, an incredible contemporary author. I hadn't heard much about it before Reading Holding Up The Universe, but gosh it made an impact on me. Such a wonderful, eye opening read.

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  13. I wasn't a fan of her first book, I hated it, but I'm actually looking forward to this one because I happen to like characters that make stupid mistakes (as long as they grow) and also cause I'm tired of all the perfect skinny girls in YA. I can see how this book can go so wrong, but I can also see how it can be very powerful and I really hope it's the second one.

    Nereyda│ Nick & Nereyda’s Infinite Booklist

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    1. I'm a big fan of flawed characters too, and sick of seeing these perfect young adult beings. Especially with readers calling for real representation, it should be for only ethnicity but also different body types, personalities and real issues that teens face. I was a bit concerned too, especially seeing how many people took offense to the synopsis but it was so wonderfully written. It showed that not all teens are accepting no matter how fabulous of a person you are. libby is such a phenomenal character, I adored her!

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  14. THis is a fantastic review of a book that I really want to read. It's good to see that the whole subject of weight and bullying and peer pressure in general has been approached realistically. It's also nice to see that there are flawed characters in this book because I much prefer my books have some realism to them and not just have characters who are perfect. I hope to read this book soon and hopefully I'll enjoy it as much as Niven's last book.

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    1. It was beautifully written and I appreciated the flawed characters because it added that realism that young adult tends to lack. I hope you do too Becky and looking forward to seeing your thoughts.

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  15. Wonderful review Kelly! It sounds like this book was really inspirational and I like how Jack's behaviour was kind of realistic even though he was painted as the villain. Libby sounds like a character that many of us can relate to. I'm looking forward to reading this especially after your review!

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    1. Thanks Jeann and Yes! I think you'll fall in love with Libby too, she's such a sweetheart. I'm still torn about Jack, I just found it hard to forgive his character for being such an asshole. Although he does redeem himself, I'm sure most of us wouldn't be so forgiving.

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  16. I will and forever be in awe of your review, Kelly. And this is a special one. I love Niven so much. I cannot wait to purchase HUTU once it is released. So much love to you and your blog. *Hugs!

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    1. Aww, thanks Yani and I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I'm a massive fan of Jennifer Niven as well and already looking forward to seeing what she's working on next.

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  17. I'm still not sure what I think of this one. I'm kind of conflicted but I can't really articulate it - maybe I'll read some reviews on Goodreads and try to find some similar ones.

    I did love Libby, though. What an amazing character. I struggled with Jack but I guess it's because I never needed to do anything like he did in high school - I was lucky enough to fit in without degrading other people.

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    1. I struggled with his character too and in that position, I wouldn't have forgave. I just think some things aren't forgivable and what he did was so hurtful and degrading. I was happy to see that he did redeem himself, but I'm still not entirely sure how he could justify what he did. Sadly, it's realistic too. High school being one of the toughest points in your life for some. I loved Libby, she was just amazing and so infectious.

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  18. This sounds like such an inspirational read! Will definitely read this one!
    Haniya
    booknauthors.blogspot.com

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    1. It was amazing Haniya, I'd love to see what you think of it too!

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  19. I’ve seen some mixed reviews on this book. It looks like readers love this book or hate it. I decided to give it a try after I’ve read Nereyda’s review. I glad to see that you loved this book too, I hope I would too. And this quote is so very true indeed. Beautiful review, Kelly!

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