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Holding Up the Universe Hardcover – October 4, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Libby Strout is used to being alone. After her mother's unexpected death, she had eaten her grief away to the point of morbid obesity. Her trials and challenges with this issue turned her into a social media spectacle and forced her into seclusion. Now she is entering high school after years of homeschooling and a medical surgery that helped her go from 600 to 300 pounds. Jack Masselin is the resident bad boy and part of the "in" crowd, but his behavior is all a facade to cover up a big secret. Jack has prosopagnosia, a neurological condition that causes facial blindness. He uses identifiers such as hairstyles and voice recognition and has mastered the art of keeping people at bay so as not to betray his disability. Libby's and Jack's worlds eventually collide after a bullying incident and poor judgment, which places them both in after-school detention. As their friendship grows, they learn what truth and honesty are all about. Libby's unique presence and drive to be herself permeate this poignant story. Jack, who is biracial, transcends the popular pretty boy trope. Both are complex, nuanced protagonists. Written in short chapters of alternating perspectives, this is a thoughtful exploration of identity and self-acceptance, with commentary on overcoming adversities that will hit close to home. The work also examines anxiety, mixed-race marriages, and LGBTQ issues. VERDICT Niven's approach to hard-hitting subjects will speak to the intellectual teen crowd, including fans of Niven's previous work, Emery Lord's The Start of Me and You, and Nicola Yoon's Everything, Everything.—Sabrina Carnesi, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, VA
★ "[Niven] creates two indelible characters and a heart-stopping romance." —Publishers Weekly starred review
★ "Written in short chapters of alternating perspectives, this is a thoughtful exploration of identity and self-acceptance, with commentary on overcoming adversities that will hit close to home." —School Library Journal starred review
★ "This is a worthy addition to any young adult collection; the story is engaging and difficult to put down." —VOYA starred review
"Niven’s honest writing shares a story of friendship, confidence, strength, and identity—and it’s not one to be missed." —Buzzfeed.com
"Libby and Jack are two characters who will reach out of the page and climb into your heart! . . . [A] beautiful love story." —Justine Magazine
"A novel about love and how important it is to be seen." —Popsugar.com
"Moving. . . . The true heart of the tale lies in personal growth and learning to love yourself." —Bookish.com
“I've never fallen in love with characters as fast as I fell for Libby and Jack. . . . Holding Up the Universe is a beautiful reminder of the power of understanding.” —Jay Asher, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Thirteen Reasons Why
“Gorgeously written and oh-so-deeply felt, Holding Up the Universe contains one of my favorite characters of all time! You will absolutely fall in love with Libby Strout!” —Nicola Yoon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything
“At once hilarious and achingly poignant, Jennifer Niven’s Holding up the Universe brims with love and heart and hope. A gorgeous, life-affirming book that—like its lovable and resilient main character, Libby—will make you want to open your arms wide, lift your face to the sky, and twirl.” —Kerry Kletter, author of The First Time She Drowned
Praise for All the Bright Places:
“[A] heartbreaking love story about two funny, fragile, and wildly damaged high school kids.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A do-not-miss for fans of Eleanor & Park and The Fault in Our Stars, and basically anyone who can breathe.” —Justine Magazine
“At the heart—a big one—of All the Bright Places lies a charming love story about this unlikely and endearing pair of broken teenagers.” —The New York Times Book Review
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Top Customer Reviews
Along the way I heard from a friend that someone had accused the author of creating characters who hated themselves. However, that was not my interpretation at all. Especially when it comes to Libby, America’s formerly fattest teen. I found her attitude and acceptance of her body-past and present-to be very inspirational. I would go as far as to say that she loved herself. THIS IS WHAT PLUS SIZE TEENS NEED TO READ. Despite being targeted by classmates, Libby didn’t let that or her weight hold her back from anything, including trying out for the dance team. A new all-time favorite passage comes from this book where Libby questions some of society’s issues with people being overweight. She says, “And this whole ‘pretty for a fat girl’ thing. I mean, what is that? Why can’t I just be pretty period? I wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, Bailey Bishop, she’s pretty for a Bible thumper.’ I mean, you’re just Bailey. And you’re pretty.”
Her counterpart, Jack, was also a well written and multi-faceted character that the reader can’t help but come to love. This was the highlight of Niven’s writing for me because it’s clear that she extensively researched prosopagnosia and brought to life some of the struggles that people with this disorder are faced with daily. Some of these situations would literally make you stress out just reading about them. I didn’t feel like his attraction to Libby was something that happened only after he “got over” her weight. He honestly seemed to think she was beautiful, weight and all. Perhaps some would say that his focus was on her personality, but I would counter that in the end, compatible personalities are the most important aspect of a successful relationship.
Overall, this book was well-written and comes with many important lessons. I didn’t even touch on the depth or all of the issues. All I can say is that I HIGHLY recommend this book.
Here's the thing...I liked the book. It was totally fine and somewhat intriguing. It was fast paced and I found myself rooting for the characters, but it just lacked....ooomf....punch....pizazz.
It seems totally unfair to an author to compare their second book to their first, especially of their first was such a mega-hit, but All the Bright Places was such a shot to the gut....I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for that to happen....and it just never did.
Libby is fierce and you root for her, for sure. When she punches Jack in the cafeteria, I uttered a heck yeah! She's been through some deep crap with her mom's death and her unwanted celebrity status, but she's tough and wants what she wants...but I felt like I was on a date and the author couldn't quite close the deal.
I never felt the sexual tension. I never really bonded much with Jack at all. His story is meaningful, but it was messy and I kept hoping for his chapters to go quickly to get back to Libby.
The book was fine. My students will probably like it more than me. But that is all.
Libby Strout is an overweight girl returning to public school for the first time since 5th grade after earning (and losing) the title of "America's Fattest Teen"
Jack Masselin is your typical popular high school boy on the outside, but he has a big secret; he's face-blind, meaning that he can't recall faces of anyone he meets, including his own family.
Written in alternating perspective between the two, we follow Libby and Jack as they deal with their individual struggles, and maybe even find help in each other.
I feel compelled to say that this isn't a horrific novel by any means, but it also isn't a great one. Niven writes with a unique voice (very similar to that of Yoon's) that didn't sit right with me, and consequently prevented me from fully immersing myself into the book. It's written in the sort of style and voice that you are either going to love or hate, and sadly I fell in the latter. Plus, this is chocked full of what is pretty much insta-love, and lots of unrealistic scenarios, just like Yoon's debut novel. Did I love it? Definitley not. Did I like it? Not particularly, but I know that the right audience definitely will.
This book is very diverse, which is a beautiful thing to see in YA. There are characters of different race, body type, and personality, so Niven really hit the mark on that. The problem is that they felt underdeveloped and fake. Jack is a massive jerk half the time but apparently the reader is meant to overlook that because it serves as a "coping mechanism" for his face-blindness. Libby does things that would get any girl in real life into a lot of trouble, but she's consistently excused from real consequence in the story. The side characters were all either jerks, random, or excessively included, so they were no help to draw me into the story.
Personally, I was dissapointed in this novel, but I can see how some will thoroughly enjoy it. My advice: proceed with caution.