”Holding Up the Universe” by Jennifer Niven

Man I really like Jennifer Niven’s books! When I finished “All the Bright Places”, I found out she had a new book out, and it sat on my wish list for almost a year before I found it available on Overdrive. I put my name on the hold list and patiently waited my turn.

The story is told through alternating narratives between Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. Libby was “America’s Fattest Teen.” After the death of her mother when she was only 10, Libby began to eat her grief until she weighed 653lbs and had to be removed from her home by a crane. She has lost 300lbs, and is ready to go back to school for the first time since the 5th grade.

Jack is a teen boy with his own issues. He has prosopagnosia, a condition where he cannot recognize faces, even of those he loves, like his family. He is essentially face-blind. He has kept it secret from everyone, including his family. He is a popular guy, dating the most beautiful girl in school. He can be a bit of a jerk, and one day he plays a prank on Libby to impress his friends.

As a result of Jack’s prank, he and Libby have to attend group counseling together, where Jack begins to befriend her, and they form an unlikely friendship…a maybe a little bit more. Each finds support in the other where they cannot find it elsewhere.

Libby is an interesting character, one that cannot fit in any traditional box. Due to her size at 650lbs and the inability to leave the house, she has very few friends. All she had was books and TV to base the outside world on. She read about a woman sexing off a lot of weight, and thinks maybe once she starts school she will meet a guy who will help her sex off the weight she has left to lose. It is immature logic at best, but if you put it into context of where she got her information of normal behaviour from, it really does make sense. She is bullied by Jack’s girlfriend, but instead of letting it get to her, she stands in the middle of the hall in a purple bikini with the words “I am wanted” written on her stomach. She writes fat shaming words about herself on the bathroom wall because she figures it is going to be said about her anyway, it might as well be her that does it. She definitely has a mentality that is hard to really wrap your head around, though I love the message sent of her standing up to the fat shaming comments.

I have read some negative reviews of how Niven depicted what it is like as an overweight teen, yet I found she did a pretty decent job of it, be it for an overweight teen or an adult. The feeling of loneliness, that no one understands you, the pressure to look a certain way, and be like everyone else I thought was very clearly conveyed. Libby’s biggest social interaction is with books, which glorifies being in relationships so it is no surprise she is desperate to feel normal and still try to be herself. In our society, weight is a constant presence. If you are overweight or obese, it is always brought up in conversations, always commented on, always on the mind when meeting someone new or entering a room, or doing anything new.

I really enjoyed the book, and was sad when it ended. I liked the relationship between Jack and Libby, and how they helped each other through their insecurities. I really enjoyed “All the Bright Places, but I loved this book! I cannot wait to see what Niven comes out with next. I have seen that she is working on a new novel, and I am really curious to see if this is ever made into a movie!                

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