Review of Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

Published: 4th October 2016
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 400


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.Β 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 counselling and community service Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel…


Thank you to Penguin for kindly sending me a review copy.

Libby is trying to change. After spending years being home schooled by her Dad because she was severely overweight, she is back at school with some familiar faces trying to make progress with her life. Jack won’t remember you. The popular boy at school has issues remembering who people are, not just friends and teachers but family members as well. As I began to read the plot, I was quickly swept away by the narrative wondering where these two characters would go. I instantly liked Libby as I wanted her to succeed in life and not be known as the “fat chick who had to be cut out of her house” for the rest of her life. With Jack, I found that he constantly had his guard up yet as the narrative progressed, his layers soon went away one by one and I began to enjoy his character more.

“Maybe it’s better that she’s locked away from the rest of the world. Maybe she’s not cut out to live like other people with other people. Maybe she belongs in that house forever.”

The relationship between the two main characters began in an odd manner yet it strangely makes sense. When Jack takes part in the Fat Girl Rodeo, he chooses Libby to hold on to that is until she punches him in the face. But why? A letter won’t solve anything. Will it? As the pair become closer, Jack decides to do something about being unable to recognise faces and when Libby goes along with him, their bond felt even stronger despite them trying to hide it from one another. I enjoyed the scientific side of the plot, it was usual for Jennifer to include it but within the narrative, it really worked and gave the characters more of a reason to support each other. I liked the fact that Jack didn’t care what others thought about him and who he chooses to date. Readers are able to see that Libby tries her best to pretend like she doesn’t care, but I think deep down, she does and that’s perfectly okay because all she wants to do is be liked.

“I take a snapshot and it immediately goes in the trash. If it takes you one or two meeting to be able to remember someone, it can take me a hundred. Or never. It’s kind of like amnesia or like trying to tell everyone apart by their hands.”

Jennifer did an incredible job of allowing body confidence to take centre stage of the plot. Whether you’re a big or small person, everyone ought to embrace the way they feel. I liked how she showcased Libby having both good and bad body confidence days because that happens to us all, whether you’re male or female. When Libby takes matters into her own hands by standing in the middle of a school corridor in her bikini, I wanted to be there to applaud her for being brave and for doing what a lot of people wouldn’t do. It is a truly remarkable book covering so many different topics for varied readers, there is something within this plot that everyone has the ability to relate to. Libby and Jack are remarkable characters who burst onto the pages of the book and without even realising it, their story is over. Jennifer writes with such beauty, her descriptions are powerful enough to allow the reader to continue imagining, the plot is extremely powerful and one of the most important Young Adult books of the year.

“Something passes across her face, and I can see it – she knows I’m the one who sent her the book.”