Review: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Holding Up the Universe is the quintessential contemporary YA novel. It had everything I love about young adult fiction, which is to say, it has very realistic, very raw thoughts and emotions of two teenagers. Jack is living with prosopagnosia and trying to keep it a secret. He cannot recognize the faces of anyone in his life, including himself and his family. He uses other visual clues – hair color, pronounced ears, etc. to identify people, but he sometimes makes mistakes, which dire consequences. Libby used to be American’s Fattest Teen. She had to be extracted from her house with a crane after she suffered a panic attack. Jack and Libby are unlikely friends, but yet they’re thrown together after an incident at school.

This book alternates back and forth between Jack and Libby in very short chapters (1-4 pages typically). I loved being inside both of their heads. Jennifer Niven has captured the struggles of being a teen perfectly. These two characters have a lot going on, but it never seemed like too much. They have the ordinary high school drama plus the additional burden of health concerns, bullying, and heavy secrets.

I loved every minute of reading this book. I could not put it down on the day I started it, and I blew through 200 pages in what seemed like no time at all. I was so invested in the story and the characters. Niven creates very complex characters without weighing down the story with unnecessary details. She lets their emotions and the events of the plot build the characterizations.

Jennifer Niven wrote Holding Up the Universe based on some of her own experiences and that of her cousin who has prosopagnosia. That is what hooked me when I heard Jennifer speak about her book at BEA. I’d never heard of this condition, but I was so curious. Jennifer also wanted to write a book for all of the fans of All the Bright Places. She wanted to let teens know that “you are wanted.” And I think she definitely accomplished that with this book. It is perfection.

Rating: 5 Stars

Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher at BEA 2016 in exchange for an honest review. This fact does not in any way impact my thoughts/feelings about the book.

Holding Up the Universe
Jennifer Niven
Young Adult Fiction
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
October 4, 2016

From the author of the New York Times bestseller All the Bright Places comes a heart-wrenching story about what it means to see someone—and love someone—for who they truly are.

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.

Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are—and seeing them right back.

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