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.