Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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I enjoyed All the Bright Places a lot. It was memorable, well written and truly poignant. It also destroyed my emotions. But I wasn't obsessed with it like everyone else was. I just really enjoyed it.

So when I picked up Holding Up the Universe, I didn't have super high expectations. I thought the plot sounded really fascinating and assumed it would be a solid read. And that's exactly what it is. It's solid, smart, interesting, adorable. But it didn't touch me, move me, change me like a magnificent book should. There is nothing wrong with that. It just is. Not all books are going to move you to tears while simultaneously making you laugh and feel special. But I loved the dynamics and honesty of this story and these characters.

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. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for every possibility life has to offer. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.

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, 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 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. Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

Libby was a very strong-hearted character. She was so proudly herself, even when the world was telling her she shouldn't be. She just stood up and refused to be a victim on the inside. But sometimes, that fierceness felt a little forced, a little unnatural, a little confusing. No matter your size, you are going to have some pain, so vulnerability; and Libby's was so quickly swept away when she felt something negative. I don't think it is that easy. It was too rushed. But other than that, I really enjoyed her character. If everyone was a little bit more like Libby, the world would be a better place.

Jack was really fascinating. Everything Jack portrayed himself as on the outside, was what Libby was on the inside. But he wasn't. He didn't feel strong, secure, normal. He felt lost and broken all the time. And because of that, he made a lot of mistakes. He did awful things so he'd fit in, he stayed with someone he didn't care about anymore because it was familiar, he pushed people away that should help him. I loved being in this brain, because it was more complicated than Libby's.

Their romance was so damn adorable. And I loved the moment Libby realized she was interested in Jack; she instantly became a blubbering fool because she realized what that could mean, felt like she needed to be "perfect" around him so he wouldn't think she was a complete freak. I have had that moment before myself, and it felt so real. I had two issues with the romance though. First, was Libby's obsession with marriage. Like literally after holding hands for a second she talked about what it would be like to marry him. Are you serious? It just felt forced; and I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be ridiculous, but it felt too ridiculous. And second, was the pushing away thing. It was too close to "I'm pushing you away to protect you" which is my least favorite trope of all time. And it added unnecessary drama. Everything else was adorable and I swooned hard.

Jennifer Niven's writing is very simple, but I love it. It isn't over the top. But it's still strong and moving when necessary. The writing has a delicate balance of being present and letting the story speak for itself. It's beautiful.

I think this had some flaws, and it lacked a strong emotional connection, but I really enjoyed it. But Jennifer Niven's writing and her characters will always have me coming back for more.


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