Holding 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.