Author: Jennifer Niven
Genre: Young Adult | Contemporary |Romance
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
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 (goodreads).
Holding Up the Universe is a story of redemption and an inspiration to keep moving forward.
Plot: Libby and Jack are two normal high schoolers with secrets that they're hiding from everyone. Libby, famed for being the overweight teen who was air lifted from her home, and Jack, a young man who hides his disability through jokes and superficial relationships. The novel is told with a healthy mix of the past and present, but I found myself wanting more of the "past" chapters to help give the reader some more background into the characters' inner workings. Overall, the pacing was great - I was able to fly through this novel in just about two days and the ending was fulfilling. I was a bit worried that the story was spiraling out of control, but it all wrapped up nicely, and it was open enough to imagine a future of possibilities for our characters.
Characters: Libby was a joy to read about. After a year of being homeschooled and being humiliated by the media with running stories about her weight, she is determined to make the most of returning to school and won't let anyone tear her down. I loved her spirit and reading about her coping skills. She felt real and got stronger and stronger as the story continued. Jack's family was also my favorite. There was so much grey area with their relationships and Jack's behavior overall - plus Jack's brother, Dusty, was a riot.
There were some big moments in both the characters' lives that weren't elaborated on. Very early on in the book, we learn that Jack's father beat cancer, but there doesn't seem to be any left over emotions for Jack to explore. Libby gained a lot of weight in response to her mom's passing, but there was no mention of her coping skills from that experience and the new family dynamic with her father.
Worldbuilding: Amos, Indiana is as exciting as you'd expect it to be. Niven did a great job giving it its' small-town feel, I actually could believe that this was a city in Indiana (I just googled it, it's not). Moreover, there is representation everywhere. Representation in race, mental health, and religion make this a realistic book about real people - not stereotypes.
Short N Sweet: Holding Up the Universe is a feel-good novel that could have included more backstory. Nonetheless, it's a good read.