Were They Really Holding Up the Universe?

Name: Holding Up the Universe

Author: Jennifer Niven

Published: 2016

Holding Up the Universe: Amazon.co.uk: Niven, Jennifer: Books

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. However, after years of homeschooling after her mother’s death, now Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for every possibility life has to offer.

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 recognise faces. 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. 

It took me a while to figure out what the main problem with this book was. I think it was just badly written.

The main reason I was drawn to this book was because last year, I read All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven; fell in love and then had my heart broken into a million pieces. That book is just beautiful (click here for my review). I figured, another book by the same author is going to be of a similar standard, right?
I was so WRONG.

When I first picked up the book, I was really interested by the characters. Libby was once dubbed as the ‘American’s Fattest Teen’ and Jack had a condition called Prosopagnosia. This means that he can’t recognise faces, so his brothers, friends and even himself are complete strangers. I thought this would make for an interesting plot, especially if he can’t recognise his girlfriend – but I sort of forgot that he had the condition near the end of the book and I think the author did too. There was so much potential for her to work with but instead of using Jack’s condition and Libby’s past to inspire the characters forwards, it just seemed to define them. One of Jennifer Niven’s main points was that people need to look past others’ weight or conditions to see the person underneath, but she seemed to do exactly that by not giving the characters proper personalities. I thought these factors weren’t supposed to define them?

*** I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’ve recently discovered all the free WordPress photos. I’m making the most of them. ***

There were a few things like that: moments where both characters seemed to display traits solely for the purpose of just having these problems in the book, not because it added to the story. For example, there were a few darker thoughts from jack, but all of sudden he seemed to be considering suicide without any spiralling or progressively darker thoughts? It felt a bit like Jennifer Niven had realised that this topic had worked well in All the Bright Places and was just trying to cram it into situations and characters that it didn’t fit. (No spoilers…)

Both Jack and Libby seemed to think that they could become better people if they fell in lurvee, which is not a good plot.

“Somewhere in this school could be a boy I fall in love with. One of these fine young men might be the one who at long last claims my heart and my body. I’m looking at all the boys going by. It could be that guy or maybe this one.”

– libby strout, holding up the universe

The above quote underlines most of my other problems with the book. A lot Jennifer Niven’s dialogue was very cringey and unrealistic; peppered with random inspirational quotes whose sole purpose seemed to be aesthetically displayed on Pinterest. What teenage girl calls guys ‘Fine Young Men?’ Some of the scenes were very strange (No, high school students do not have random ‘dance parties’ in the middle of detention with their PE teacher. Although, it did give Libby and Jack the opportunity to slow dance and stare into each other’s souls… so it’s fine).

However, Holding Up the Universe was extremely readable, and the pages went by quickly. I loved how much detail was put into the side characters – Jack’s little brother Dusty was by far my favourite character. Jack’s condition and Libby’s past could have made for a really interesting story but I felt like the author focused too much on these traits rather than giving the characters’ personalities.

What are you reading at the moment? Have you tried this one, got a book to recommend or any ideas for my site? Please like and let me know in the comments section!

Published by Hundreds&Thousands

I’m a teenager (and a Hufflepuff) from Manchester. I like oversized jumpers, music that isn't on the radio anymore and books. Pretty much any book I can get my hands on but my favourites are Young Adult, fantasy and science fiction. One day, I decided to share some of my opinions on some great - and not so great - books to people around the world. And here it is! I really enjoy it and I hope you do too. The aim is hundreds and thousands of book reviews (see what I did there?) but I’m not quite up to that. Yet.

9 thoughts on “Were They Really Holding Up the Universe?

      1. I just found it weird. I know suicide is a very serious topic and Niven was very brave in taking it up. But I thought that it kinda glorified death. Also, I hated what Finch did to people. Like he just left them- best example being Violet.
        P.S.- I did not like the movie either.
        P.S.-2 I read Holding Up the Universe a while ago as well, so my views o it might have changed. I too have grown cynical😂😂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah that’s true. I felt the film glorified the death even more and turned it into a kind of thirteen reasons why crossed with Romeo and Juliet. With some mental health because it’s ‘diverse’?? (All the best people are cynical😊)


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