Let's start out with a synopsis.
Libby, formerly “America's fattest teen,” is about to become a junior in high school. She is still recovering from her mother’s death a few years before, but she is determined to live on. She wants to find friends, find love, and take advantage of every opportunity life offers.
Jack has prosopagnosia, a neurological disorder that inhibits him from recognizing people's faces, even the ones of those he loves. He keeps this a secret, and he’s gotten pretty good at it. So good that instead of being authentic, he hides behinds his invented persona of swagger and indifference.
When the her first day of school rolls around, Libby is greeted tentatively by her classmates. She hasn’t been to school in a few years because of her mother’s death, her weight gain, and relentless bullying. It starts out with weird glances and pitying smiles but as the weeks go on, she becomes a target. Jack’s friends decide they want to play “Fat Girl Rodeo,” a disgusting game where someone jumps on the back of a girl and stays on as long as possible and Jack gets pressured into playing. He’s apprehensive, but knows he can’t say no or he risks losing his reputation. (Quick note: I am in no way saying what he’s doing is okay, I’m just relaying his thought process. I’m kind of getting angry as I write it.) To make it right, he writes a note to Libby that starts with “I’m not a sh*tty person but I’m about to do a sh*itty thing.” The second he tries to play “the game” she hauls around and punches him in the face. As expected, this lands them both in mandatory group counseling. But as they get to know each other better, they slowly begin to recognize one another’s circumstances, obstacles, and identities.
This book is a perfect example of why I read YA fiction. Libby and Jack are two of the most relatable characters I've read recently. Libby's determined spirit and Jack's journey to discover who he really is resonates with me. I am a junior in high school, the same as Libby, and I'm still looking for something to define me. I can connect so easily to this book and I feel like that's why novels about and for young adults are so valuable to teens. It allows them to see their situations solved in a way that fiction about adults can't. Being a young adult is a singular experience and with it comes singular experiences. Some people look at it as the high point in their lives, and maybe it is later on, but in the moment it's stressful and scary and sometimes a bit overwhelming. Jennifer Niven did an excellent job of gathering all those emotions and pouring them into rich and complex characters like Libby and Jack, who are trying to find themselves in the midst of it. Holding Up the Universe isn't about a fat girl and a face-blind boy brought together by circumstance. It’s a lesson we need to remember sometimes -- a person’s exterior does not define them. What’s inside is what counts.
Buy Holding Up The Universe HERE
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