Book Reviews

Book Review: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Image via Goodreads

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 5/5
Recommend to Others?: Yes
Favorite Passage: “I pull up one of the news articles on my new phone, my first phone, the one my dad bought me so I can all him if I need anything.

I enlarge the picture of me, taken the day I was rescued from our house. ‘This girl,’ I tell Rachel. ‘That’s not what I look like. That’s not who I am.’ I have a feeling Rachel will get this because she pretended to be straight all through high school, even though she figured out she was a lesbian when she was in eighth grade.

I say it again, ‘That’s not me.’

Her eyes light up. ‘Great. Let’s see if we can find her.'”


Summary (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, 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.


My Review:
I’m pretty sure the theme song to this novel, and certainly Libby’s anthem, is “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman. Every inch of that song is echoed in this story and hits hard back with bold and positive messages of self-expression, self-esteem, self-respect, and being true to yourself.

The story switches POVs between Jack and Libby and even spends some chapters in the past. Chapters are super short but I didn’t feel lost during the back and forth with who was currently speaking.

It’s interesting to see how being yourself (Libby) and being what people expect you to be (Jack, but also Libby) clash. And it’s painfully obvious the masks everyone hides behind because they feel they must uphold a particular appearance in order to fit in and survive. It’s heartbreaking to see how if you don’t live by this unwritten rule you’ll be bullied, ridiculed, and judged.

And so, Holding Up the Universe makes two important literary references from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

But have no fear, there are plenty of light-hearted moments to ease the tension and frustrations.

Perhaps the most adorable part was this: “I tear off the wrapping and the bows go flying. She picks one up and sticks it to her hair, right over her left ear. She picks up another and sticks it to the knee of my jeans. I pick one up and stick it to the end of my nose and then stick one on the end of her nose.

Perhaps the most shockingly funny part: how many times the word “shit” and its variants was used (if I had a nickel…). However, the why of its usage is important.

I’m a bit on the fence with how Libby and Jack’s relationship started off (though it does make sense). I do like where it ends up though. I also like how that it’s not instanta-YA-attraction but a rather shocking beginning to a conversation that builds. Their relationship – ups and downs and all – is rather adorable.

I had never heard of “face blindness” (prosopagnosia) before reading this book. I always though there were just people who could be bad with matching names and face if they don’t see certain people for a certain period of time (like me). What’s shared about it (the medical specifics) and how Jack experiences it is really fascinating.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven is written with grace and style, creating a daring and enriching story that reminds you that you are wanted.

7 replies on “Book Review: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s