(Review): Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

(Review): Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer NivenHolding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Published by Penguin on 6th October 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Depression, Romance, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Social Themes, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 388
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
From the author of the New York Times bestseller All the Bright Places comes a heart-wrenching story about what it means to see someone and love someone for who they truly are.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. "Want a love story that will give you all the feels? . . . You'll seriously melt!" --Seventeen Magazine I've never fallen in love with characters as fast as I fell for Libby and Jack. Appreciating people for who they are and who they can be! comes alive when a boy who can't recognize faces and a girl once named America's Fattest Teen let themselves connect. Holding Up the Universeis a beautiful reminder of the power of understanding. Jay Asher, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Thirteen Reasons Why Gorgeously written and oh-so-deeply felt, Holding Up the Universe contains one of my favorite characters of all time! You will absolutely fall in love with Libby Strout! Nicola Yoon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything At once hilarious and achingly poignant, Jennifer Niven s Holding up the Universe brims with love and heart and hope.A gorgeous, life-affirming book that like its lovable and resilient main character, Libby will make you want to open your arms wide, lift your face to the sky, and twirl. Kerry Kletter, author ofThe First Time She Drowned"

Holding Up the Universe is the story of a boy who can’t recognise anyone and a girl who everyone knows by reputation. Jack Masselin suffers from undiagnosed prosopagnosia, a condition which causes him to be unable to identify anyone – even his own family. Trying not to give anyone an excuse to realise he’s different, Jack is the cool guy who has mastered the art of being so cool no one questions the occasional odd behaviour caused by his cognitive disorder. Libby Strout is a girl who is so much more than the girl who is too big to leave the house. It seems like no one can see past her weight. When a cruel prank brings Libby to Jack’s attention, the two teens are thrown together. With both of them having secrets and issues, Jack and Libby find themselves seeing past the surface and to the person beneath appearances.

Jennifer Niven has such a beautiful way with words. Her debut novel, All the Bright Places, broke my heart in the best kind of way and I was so excited to read Holding Up the Universe. Whilst Jennifer’s new novel isn’t as emotional as her first, this book was a pleasure to read and cements Ms. Niven as one of my must-read authors.

Libby is a girl with attitude. Whilst life has been hard for her so far, she’s not willing to let it get the best of her. She’s been out of school for a few years after her mother died and her weight got out of control but now Libby is ready to face her class mates again. As a girl who was always heavier than average, I could relate to Libby’s story and the self-consciousness she felt at times because of her weight. But Libby is more than just a fat girl stereotype. She’s brave and flawed. She’s one of those characters who doesn’t just fall apart when things get tough. She realises what others must think about her but doesn’t let it get the best of her. Instead she picks herself up and dances. Libby has her own demons she has to face but they will not defeat her.

Jack is an interesting character and I enjoyed how his story contrasted with Libby. In some ways they are opposites but just below the surface they are kindred spirits. Jack’s prosopagnosia was fascinating to read about. It is not something I’m familiar with but I found Jack’s way of dealing with his disorder to be confusing. He uses identifiers to distinguish people from others but it was very superficial and temporary. I feel part of this was to further certain plot points but somewhat unrealistic. (Jack can’t even identify his family members. Whilst I understand he doesn’t recognise their faces, why didn’t he use other cues from his other senses like the tone of their voices, the scent of their perfume/aftershave, even the rhythm of their footsteps like many blind people do).

The relationship between Libby and Jack is very sweet. They start off as virtual strangers with little in common but circumstances forced them to spend time together. Seeing the world through the others eyes makes them reassess their own lives and their priorities. I loved their friendship. It was paced beautifully and I found myself smiling after reading certain interactions between them. And interestingly I didn’t need the romance.

This book is wonderful for so many reasons. It’s got a diverse cast of characters and the focus on stereotypes only goes to highlight how pointless is is to judge people based on them. Libby’s love of dance was wonderful as was Jack’s secret nerdy side.

If you enjoy heartwarming, beautifully written contemporary YA – read this book! Holding Up the Universe is a unique addition to the YA scene with well rounded characters who make you look different at the world.


  1. I loved your review 🙂 Seriously, I read ATBP a few days ago AND I AM NOT OKAY. I sobbed so much, and why did that ending happen? Jennifer Niven is promoted to one of my fave authors now so I will read this really soon! (plus love that cover)

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