Friday, September 9, 2016

Review: Holding Up the Universe

Jennifer Niven
Contemporary Young Adult
400 pages
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Available October 4th
Source: ARC from publisher for review

THE STORY (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 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.

Holding Up the Universe is both an extraordinary and everyday story, one about young people who struggle to get through their day sometimes but who wake up and strap on their armor anyway, ready to battle the dragons that await them.

Libby and Jack's story opens with a letter from Jack letting us know he's about to do something that will surely not endear us to him, and as soon as we meet Libby on the following page, it doesn't take a huge mental leap to guess it's going to have something to do with her weight. Despite having lost hundreds of pounds, Libby is still overweight and returning to high school for the first time after being homeschooled due to her health issues, and we can't help but want to give Jack a resounding smack in the face for the stress he causes us (not to mention the fear and humiliation he causes Libby) as we wait for the event he mentioned in his letter to come to pass.

Though it sounds as though it will be easy to hate Jack for inflicting emotional pain on someone whose had her more than her fair share of it already, Ms. Niven lets us in Jack's head for nearly 70 pages before "the event' takes place, and our time there lets us see that he's dealing with his own unique battle. While that of course doesn't excuse his actions, his affable nature and sincere apology to Libby go a long way in earning our forgiveness, as does Libby's reaction to him. Where she could hold a grudge and seek to hurt him the way he hurt her, she instead proves herself to be the bigger person (no pun intended) and looks more closely at him in a way that everyone around them fails to do for them both.

What unfolds after they're forced to do community service for the school is a beautiful friendship and eventual romance, both of them so impressively good-natured despite their struggles that we can't help but smile along with them as they put brave faces on for the world but allow one another a peek behind the curtain.

Rating: 4.5/5

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This book was sent to me by the publisher  free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.


  1. I really liked Niven's first book so I think I'll have to give this one a try too!

  2. Love that you got Jack's POV as well so it was easier to see where he was coming from as well. Wonderful review for this Jenny! Happy Friday and I hope you have a lovely weekend!

  3. Sounds like a current topic and one with a lovely lesson that could be learned. Great review as always.

  4. I always like when you get into the bully's head so you can understand better what motivates them. I am glad that this one has a nice HEA.

  5. I'm kind of disappointed that this seems to be about her weight than his face blindness (Chuck Close, the artist, has this and I'm curious). Still, it also seems to be more about bullying and how we all have our battles. Yea, you can safely say that you still made me curious. :D

  6. I think this would make me have big tears everywhere - but in a good way! I'm glad the author lets the readers get to know Jack before "the event" happens. This sounds so sweet - lovely review, Jenny.

    Hope you have a fabulous weekend :)

  7. Face blindness, hmm, not sure I know about that, but now I do :D

  8. Oh it sounds great! It's the first time I heare about this one so I'm curious!

  9. I honestly didn't expect this to be a feel-good book. I thought it would be full of angst and leave me depressed for some reason. How odd. Since I now know that's not the case, I'll make sure to get my copy and do my best to forgive Jack for whatever it is that he does.

  10. I am both excited and terrified of this book. Gah. But I loved her first one so I'm dying for a copy!

  11. I love stories like this where we get a deeper understanding of what a character is going through.

  12. I haven't read anything by this author before but this sounds like a really intense and rewarding read. Not sure it's something I'll pick up soon but thanks for putting it on my radar, Jenny!

  13. I just got the audiobook for this one and I'm hoping I like it as much as you did, I'm a little nervous since I hated her first book. #fingerscrossed

    Nereyda│ Nick & Nereyda’s Infinite Booklist

  14. I need to get my hands on this book. I think I am still mourning what was All the Bright Places. Can my heart handle another book by Jennifer Niven? We'll just have to find out.

    I am glad to see you liked this one.