HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE by Jennifer Niven | Review (SPOILER FREE)

My sweet friend Sophia over at vivalabooklife sent me an advance reader’s copy of this book after she picked it up at BookCon because I was so unbelievably excited to read it. So thank you Soph, for making this review possible! I have so many feelings about this book, but don’t you worry. This review is 100% spoiler free!

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Author: Jennifer Niven

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Pages: 400

Synopsis:

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.

My Review: 

Let me first start by saying that as someone who is overweight, there are not many fictional characters I can relate to aside from Eleanor from Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. While both Eleanor and Libby are only in high school and I myself am 21, I find that they are some of the only characters I can honestly say remind me of myself. (Side note: If you have any suggestions of books with overweight main character’s please leave them in the comments below or tweet them to me!)

Our first main character, Libby, is everything I could have wanted from a character. She is sassy and funny and passionate in so many ways that I admire. She is also a big reader and spends a lot of the book quoting famous classics that she has read. She reminds me of me in more ways than one. But she also has qualities I wish I had—that I want to work harder to achieve—such as: confidence! Don’t get me wrong, she has her not-so-confident moments but throughout the book you really see her come into her own and realize that what other people say about you doesn’t matter.

This book not only has an overweight main character but also a lovely cast of people of color. Our second main character, Jack—who shares half of the book’s POV with Libby—is an incredibly complex character who happens to be a person of color! Jack describes himself as having “medium brown skin” and a “lion ‘fro” and spends a lot of the book talking about his hair. There is one quote of his about his hair that I love so much—you’ll know it when you read it and if you’re like me you will laugh out loud. Jack has this adorable swagger to him that I can’t help but giggle about—I mean, he calls teenage girls “ma’am” and his sass is unreal. But aside from his ethnicity and personality, Jack has something else that makes him unbelievably interesting—as you read in the synopsis Jack cannot recognize faces. He has a neurological disorder called Prosopagnosia and we spend the length of the book witnessing the struggles he faces on a daily basis, not even being able to recognize his own family. In fact, Jack cannot even recognize his own face.

I didn’t know what Prosopagnosia was before reading this book and I am so happy to see a book bringing something like this to light. There are other aspects touched on in this book that make it even more amazing—love, loss, marriage, cancer, cheating, bullying, diversity, finding yourself, and realizing that everyone else is trying to do the same.

There is honestly not much I can say about this book without giving away a lot of the plot/my favorite parts so I’m going to leave it with my final thoughts:

This book is amazing and I hope every teenager out there reads it and understands that they are not alone. Everyone is going through something and you may not even know it. I think it will also show people the importance of being kind and building people up instead of knocking them down. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Even the most popular boy or girl in school that seems to have it all together. So whoever you are, reading this… I’m rooting for you and you ARE wanted.

Xoxo – Karleigh

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