‘All The Bright Places’ was a heartbreaking and beautifully written book that really encouraged me to read more ‘normal’ YA books as opposed to Science Fiction or Fantasy. I was really interested in ‘Holding Up The Universe‘ by the description and my previous positive experiences with Jennifer Niven and while this book was still a great read, it lacked something both emotionally and story telling wise that stopped it from getting to the next level.
Title: Holding Up the Universe
Author: Jennifer Niven
Date published: October 4th 2016
Page Count: 388
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.
While I enjoyed ‘Holding Up the Universe, there was something missing in the characters and the story compared to Jennifer Niven’s previous book ‘All the Bright Places.’ The two main characters are well developed and distinct and convey important messages about body positivity and mental health, but the book lacked emotion and depth in the plot.
Libby and Jack are teenagers that struggle with similar but different problems. Libby was previously extremely obese and suffered multiple mental health issues due to not only her weight, but from bullying and the death of her mother when she was ten. While Libby had lost a large amount of weight, she still is significantly larger than most other teenagers, and returns to High School after being previously home schooled. Libby gets bullied and ostracised and throughout the book we see her ry to to maintain the confidence and body positivity she had worked hard over the last few years to develop. Libby is a wonderful character who sends a great message throughout the book-she always promotes confidence and highlights the importance of self esteem; stands up to her bullies; tries to help and stand up for others; and when she is struggling she learns to ask for help from others. At times she does make questionable decisions, but we see her growth and her stubbornness to be her own person and proud of her body,
While Libby starts out such a positive character, we see the opposite from Jack. Jack is popular with a solid group of friends and the ‘perfect’ high school girlfriend. While we see many times he does not actively engage in bullying early on, he is a bystander and does target Libby due to her weight (even though it was with mixed intentions). However as we delve deeper into his character we learn he has Prosopagnosia, or ‘face blindness’, a condition where he cannot associated faces with people and cannot identify people easily- and his behaviour is a defence mechanism for the insecurity and anxiety associated with this, how he deals in an unhealthy and negative way. Through his relationship with Libby we see him shed that ‘comfort blanket’ and address his not only his Prosopagnosia but his relationship with his parents, siblings, friends and realise that, like Libby, he can ask for help and work to improve himself and address his condition.
While the characters are strong in this book, especially their relationship which grows over the course of the book, there was an emotional aspect to the book that was lacking. I felt not as invested or connected in the story as Niven’s previous work. Whether this was due to the slow plot or the writing style that did not flow as it could have, the text did not carry the ‘weight’ that it could have.
‘Holding Up the Universe’ is a touching read with some really important messages about body positivity, self esteem, and how to treat people properly. However there was something missing emotionally with this story that made it hard for me to invest in the characters and story completley and that limited my enjoyment of the book.