I don’t know what I was expecting when I started listening to this book. While I did enjoy Niven’s All the Bright Places, it was heavy in terms of subject matter, so I wasn’t sure if her next book would deal with similar subject matter. However, I’m glad to see I enjoyed this book more than AtBP, and listening to the audiobook was a fantastic idea because oh my goodness, I actually recognized one of the voice actors! (Thank you, FFXV! 😛 )
Title: Holding Up the Universe
Author: Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release date: October 4, 2016
Length: 391 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Young adult, contemporary
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) “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 didn’t expect this book to hurt me the way it did. I mean that in a good way though, I promise. However, I will say that I cannot speak for the fat representation in this book nor can I speak for the medical condition Jack has. I make the assumption that Niven has researched this medical condition thoroughly before writing about a character who has it. There are some nuances to show that she most likely did, but again, that’s just my own assumption.
The truth is, I genuinely liked both Libby and Jack as characters. Libby is incredibly honest with and about herself and her struggles. She goes into the world with such enthusiasm, I almost wish I matched it. I was thrown off by a few remarks she made in the beginning, but as the story progressed and we got to know her better, I wished she was my friend. That isn’t to say Libby’s confidence didn’t waver, but she didn’t back down from people teasing her about her weight. She’s fierce and strong, and she genuinely cares. I think she truly has a wonderful heart despite what happened to her family and the outcome of her life in the years that followed. Her confidence was endearing, too, and it pained me a little especially in the beginning how hard she was on herself. I sort of understand why she did, as if she were mentally and emotionally preparing herself by getting all the “hard” things out of the way. But gosh, did it make me realize I forgot how harsh high school can be.
I also loved the relationship she had with her dad. He loves her, obviously, but he gives her space and the right to make decisions about herself. He disciplines her, of course, but I think they both know their limitations.
As for Jack, I found myself relating to him a lot more than Libby. Maybe because I envied the way he confronted his father about a particular situation. I’m not saying it was the best idea, but as a 17-year-old, when something that life-changing happens, sometimes we don’t think logically. But as someone who has parents who went through a similar situation, minus one aspect, I think Jack’s reaction is how I wished I could have reacted but knowing in reality, I never would have. I also loved Jack’s honesty with his younger brother as well. It hurt me, though, to see the façade that he put on when he was with his friends at school.
This is the story of two people who realize things about themselves with each other’s help. Not that they wouldn’t have before–maybe it would have just taken them longer. Jack learned to stop putting on a mask, though faces themselves were masks to him. Libby knew, but I think she learned a little bit more, how cruel people can and cannot be.