Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary
Page Length: 400 pages
Format: ARC (won as a B-Fest/First in Line prize)
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Although I received a free copy of this book, my opinion of it is completely my own.
About Holding Up the Universe (via 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 in new and bad-ass ways, 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.
Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are—and seeing them right back.
Let me say it right now: I loved this book. And before all the haters who haven’t even read this book start having a fit, let me say something. So maybe Libby is a girl who once had to be lifted out of her house by a crane, and that's a big deal (I won't deny it). But she and this story are both so much more than that.
Holding Up the Universe is a story about finding yourself and your voice despite social stigmas. It's about learning to be comfortable and confident in your own skin. It's about learning to embrace your flaws and learning to love yourself, inside and out (and to learn to love others the same). It’s about learning to dance, even when everyone is staring, and to not care because you’re doing you and you’re happy.
Yes, maybe Libby was fat-shamed by her classmates constantly, and it was heartbreaking to watch them do these awful things to her. Really, truly heartbreaking. In no way am I saying it’s acceptable to bully people, no matter who they are. It’s just not okay, period. However, this story wasn’t about society peer pressuring her into becoming someone else. She lost weight from the accident for her health, but after that, it was up to her. And she, through it all, decided to be herself. And that is pretty damn inspiring. She chooses to be an individual who sticks up for herself and her friends, rather than conforming to others’ expectations of her.
Jack’s story is a bit more complicated. While I didn’t agree with all of his decisions in the beginning, I could understand in some ways why he did it. I can only imagine how hard it would be to be recognized by everyone, but not be able to recognize them in return, and how he felt he had to conform to what his classmates expected so he could lay low instead of standing out (or being cast out). Despite all his personality/attitude problems, I couldn’t hate Jack. He was a good person deep down, as Libby points out, even if he didn’t realize it.
The romance was definitely cute and I loved Libby and Jack’s relationship, but I appreciate that it didn’t overwhelm the plot. It started off as skepticism, then friendship, then something more (aka it wasn’t the dreaded instalove). They helped each other grow and become better people, but they didn’t magically change because of the other, which I’m so glad about. I feel like a lot of times, characters are expected to (and often do) change for the sake of others or their love interests, but that wasn’t the case in Holding Up the Universe. They were catalysts of each other's change in the scientific sense (speeding up the reaction/change) rather than causing one another to change for the sake of the other. In simpler terms, they already wanted to find themselves, but because they had such a good relationship, it was easier to recognize who they wanted to be. Maybe it’s a bit cheesy, but I think it’s true. It’s easier to find the best in yourself when you’re with people who care about you for you and want you to be the best you can be.
I was afraid Holding Up the Universe would pale in comparison to All the Bright Places, but Jennifer Niven once again swept me away with her newest novel. While Niven’s novels are quite different, both stories have a special place in my heart. All in all, Holding Up the Universe was a heart-wrenching, heartwarming, beautiful, and inspiring story that deserves a chance to be loved.