Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
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.
Holding Up the Universe is the latest book from Jennifer Niven, the bestselling author of All the Bright Places. It focuses on two teenagers who fall in love, despite their differences, and is an important book for teenagers of all ages.
Holding Up the Universe introduces us to Jack Masselin and Libby Strout. Jack is popular and suffers from face prosopagnosia, which means he’s unable to recognise people’s faces. He uses certain ‘identifiers’ such as hair so that he is able to hide his condition from everyone else. Libby used to be America’s Fattest Teen, and her weight made it very difficult for her to go to school. When we meet Libby at the beginning of the book, she has just rejoined school after a year or so at home. Although she lost a lost of weight, the kids still tease her. However, there are a few people who accept her for who she is, and Jack is one of them.
Libby and Jack are thrown together after an incident at school. They are called into the Head’s office and realise they have more in common than they thought. As with All the Bright Places, the chapters in Holding Up the Universe alternate between the point of views of the two protagonists. This makes it easier for the reader to connect with Libby and Jack, and understand what they are going through, even though they aren’t the most likeable characters and can be quite immature at times. Nevertheless, Libby is relatable and Jack adds an element of humour to the book. I like his mini articles at the end of some of the chapters, for example ‘7 Careers for Someone with Prosopagnosia’ (pg 22).
You might be aware that the original blurb for Holding Up the Universe was heavily criticised for being offensive to overweight people. It does kind of suggest that it’s hard to be liked if you’re overweight. This is completely untrue; I know plenty of larger people who are in serious relationships and have lots of friends. I get how readers could take the book the wrong way, but I don’t think Jennifer meant any harm. She merely wanted to cover topics that haven’t previously been touched on in literature.
While it does have its flaws, and I do prefer All the Bright Places, I like the message Jennifer Niven is trying to put across in Holding Up the Universe. She is basically saying that we shouldn’t judge others and we should accept that everyone is different. Teenagers in particular have a tendency to judge people based on their looks or any disabilities / mental health problems they may have. Hopefully young people will read Holding Up the Universe and realise that bullying and insulting others doesn’t get you anywhere.