Tag Archives: grief

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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holdingHolding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven, paperback novel, 388 pages, published by Penguin Books in 2016.

Libby used to be morbidly obese, and she’s still a big girl, but now it’s time for her to leave her house again and start high school. There she meets Jack, a popular, good looking boy with a secret he is hiding at all costs.

A touching love story, Holding Up the Universe made me feel, made me hope, made me smile. It also kept me up late as I found it difficult to stop reading. I flew through the story, taking every step and every stumble with Libby and Jack. My heart lurching and singing, my mind whirling over the difficulties that they both faced.

Holding Up the Universe covers themes of bullying, grief and obesity, but also explores a disorder called prosopagnosia or face-blindness. This was not something I was particularly familiar with, but was quite an interesting topic, and obviously well researched. I certainly learnt a lot during this novel.

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Libby and Jack. I find this to be an excellent way to explore the depths of the characters. Libby is an amazing person; smart, brave, strong, empathetic. She is complex and beautiful, and she deserves so much more than her peers are capable of giving. Jack is also a complicated character, but I didn’t like him as much as I liked Libby. There were moments when I just wanted to smack him for his stupidity! By hiding his problems with face recognition, he comes across as being a jerk, which isn’t really him. And his choice of friends was questionable, until I realised that shallow and self-interested friends are the only ones that he could have hidden his issues from for very long. I’m surprised his family didn’t realise something wasn’t right.

Holding Up the Universe is suitable for high school students and beyond. I feel that it would be a good read for all teenagers and their parents as it examines a lot of issues relevant to adolescent life. I also recommend reading All the Bright Places, which is another poignant story of adolescence by Jennifer Niven.

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All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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allthebrightplacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, novel, 388 pages, published by Penguin Books in 2015.

Theodore Finch is singled out at school as a “freak”, and he has a tendency to get into trouble. His family life is not ideal, and he is battling some pretty strong inner demons. Violet Markey is part of the popular crowd, but she lost her sister in a car accident the previous winter and can’t seem to move forward. When the two meet at the top of the school bell tower an unlikely friendship is forged.

All the Bright Places touched my heart and made me cry; it spoke to me, it moved me, it reminded me that every day could be my last, so I should really live.

This poignant tale is a bit of a modern day Romeo and Juliet. It is intensely emotional and incredibly difficult to put down. Told through the alternate views of Finch and Violet, the story is beautifully written, complex and and wonderful.

The characters are rich, and honest, unique and deep. And heartbreakingly tragic. Violet and Finch, Finch and Violet, I can’t stop thinking about them. I desperately wanted to swoop in to fix all of their problems. And the pages flew by as I became invested in them, both as individuals and as a couple. I loved the wandering Indiana project as a way to discover the state, and to give this unusual pair time to really get to know one another. Quirky Finch, I am a little in love with you, and beautiful Violet, I’m a little in love with you too. Where were you when I needed you in high school?

I related to Finch like no other fictional character I can recall. I know his pain, his joy, his fear, I know him, I’ve been him. Thank you Jennifer Niven for creating Finch, I will never forget him. And thank you for Violet, I hope their lives will help others.

All the Bright Places contains themes of mental illness, domestic violence, death and suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these issues, please seek help, you could be saving a life. Know that you are not alone. There are lists of places to get help at the end of this book for a number of countries, including Australia; Beyond Blue and Lifeline can help.

All the Bright Places is suitable for high school students and beyond. I highly recommend it to all high schoolers and their parents.

 

The Very Best of Friends by Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas

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IMG_3948The Very Best of Friends by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Julie Vivas, paperback picture book, first published by Margaret Hamilton Books in 1989, this edition published by Scholastic Australia Pty Limited in 2004.

James and Jessie live on a farm with lots of animals, but only one cat, William. As James goes about his jobs on the farm, William goes with him, he curls up on his lap in the evenings and on the bed at night. And then James dies suddenly and Jessie falls deep into grief, shutting William out, letting him run wild and become mean, something he never was with James. To move forwards, Jessie must work on her friendship with William and regain his trust.

A poignant tale of friendship and loss, beautifully spun for younger children, The Very Best of Friends will touch your heart. It is a reminder that all relationships need work, and if you fail to tend them, they will wither, but with a little love, kindness and attention they might thrive again.

While the story is beautiful, the illustrations are distinctive and just gorgeous. I love the way that William is depicted, and how he changes from the well-tended cat to the wild thing he becomes after James dies.

The Very Best of Friends is suitable for primary school children. It is a book I read as a young child,  and I am now sharing it with my own children. This wonderful picture book can be used to start a discussion on the complicated issues of loss and grief, and that life must go on. Though something sad happens, the friendship that blooms between Jessie and William is lovely and inspiring. It is important to keep living your life even when you have lost someone, and I found this book to be helpful in explaining that to my children.

 

* The Very Best of Friends won the 1990 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Picture Book category.