For What It's Worth

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

review: holding up the universe by jennifer niven



28686840Everyone 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. ~ Goodreads 

Source: ARC provided by the publisher via ALA

Review:

There are a lot of *important/issue* books out right now. What I really love is how much better they’ve gotten in not only representation but also how the issues are just one part of the person and not the whole story. A few that come to mind are the recent - The Upside of Unrequited, Geekerella, Queens of Geek and last years Dumplin’, If I Were your Girl, to name a few. They don’t shy away from anything but aren’t thumping you over the head with a message. They aren’t ISSUE books – but books with issues. – if that makes any sense.

Holding Up the Universe is an issue book and never lets you forget it. It’s a constant stream of how difficult life can be (it can be!) and perfectly delivered inspirational messages to make everyone cheer just when all hope is lost. I can see how readers loved this book but I was never able to let go of the authors voice and fall into the characters lives. Instead of immersing in Libby and Jack’s story – I always aware that it was Niven telling it.

There were things that I could personally relate to in Libby. Her mom died and she feels intense panic about dying herself or losing those she loves. That was pretty much me after losing my mother at her age. Everything is factually on point – but I didn’t feel the intensity of what Libby is going through.

The bullying is AWFUL in this book. And relentless. I did like how Libby stood up for herself, liked who she was, understood she deserved more and demanded it but almost everything is centered around her weight and how she has to accommodate others feelings about it. Some of it makes sense to the story but it never allows Libby to be more than the fat girl waiting on others to let her in which was sad because she’s such a vibrant person.

Jack was interesting. Definitely flawed. He has something called Prosopagnoosia where he can’t recognize faces. Even his parents, siblings, girlfriend. Every time he looks at them, it’s like seeing them for the first time. He compensates by basically being an asshole. If he comes into a room all cocky then people either stay away or say something that triggers an identifying feature so that he can figure out who they are. He does something very cruel to Libby but they manage forge a friendship that blossoms into more.

But most of Holding Up the Universe felt very “important” instead of natural. Jack does something horrible, then he writes the perfect letter or says the most perfect thing and voila! forgiven or Libby takes this bold stand against her bullies – loves herself only to be bullied again until love conquers all…or something.

I guess it read more like a well meaning inspirational after school special to me – hitting all the correct notes, checking all the boxes but lacking the emotional punch to the gut or connection to the characters that I was hoping for.

19 comments:

  1. I do not know about checking all the boxes without that emotional punch

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    1. A lot of people loved it but I've been reading so much better lately that this book didn't work for me.

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  2. Interesting. I know what you mean, about not actually hitting the emotional punch. I loved All The Bright Places, but I haven't read this one yet.
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    1. A few people I know that read and loved AtBP didn't like this one as much but I've only read this one.

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  3. I understand what you felt. It's sometimes hard to connect when everything is so perfect, although the message is important. It doesn't feel natural. I am curious about Jack, though. His case is something I've never heard of. Anyway, fantastic review. Thanks for sharing. :)

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    1. I think there are so many great books out there now that deliver messages without hammering you over the head so this was a bit of a setback with that for me.

      A lot of readers hated Jack, and he did a lot of shitty things , but I found him interesting. I can imagine how you would have to find coping mechanisms to protect yourself from not really knowing the people you deal with everyday on sight.

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  4. Sorry to hear this didn't 100% satisfy, but glad that it wasn't an "issue book" as you say but rather a book about people with issues. aka all of us.

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    1. I felt like it was an issue book. Very heavy handed.

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  5. I had the same issues with this one too Karen even though I really enjoyed it overall. I couldn't be as forgiving as Libby was. There was so much more to Libby than her weight and although it did show how vibrant her character was, I couldn't agree more Karen. It fell a little flat for me too. Brilliant review nevertheless and sorry you couldn't have enjoyed this one a little more <3

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    1. It was...ok. I felt like it was screaming at me though THIS IS AN IMPORTANT BOOK. FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS lol

      Everything around Libby centered around her weight. Even Jack falling for her in spite of her weight was because of her weight - know what I mean??

      Libby was awesome but I don't think the book really let her shine enough on her own without other people's opinions of her always coming first.

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  6. So sorry about your mom. I can't even imagine what that was like to go through. ((HUGS))

    I do like books with issues but not always issue books... especially those that don't let you forget it. I was thinking you were going to hate it because of that so I was surprised when you really liked it and the issue really spoke to you. Oh yea, you have me curious now.

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  7. Sorry that this did not work for you. Great review despite the lack of emotional punch.

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  8. I totally get what you mean about the whole issue books vs. books with issues thing! "Issue books" are about as subtle as a bag of hammers to the face, hahaha. Sadly it seems like this one veered a little too close to issue book territory, which is a bummer!

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  9. Important issues indeed.

    Yes, a book I feel I will read some time. Just not at the moment when books with such emotional punches are far from my mind.

    Great to be back with you all, thank you so much for your kind comments Karen.

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  10. Thanks for sharing. I don't mind issue books per se - some of them are my favorite books, but that's a bummer you could never really get past that and enjoy the story!

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  11. I didn't connect with Libby as much as I had liked, but I was completely sold on Jack and his family!

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  12. I started this but wasn't feeling it so returned it to the library. I am also not a fan of books that
    hit you over the head with a message!

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  13. Yeah I so agree with your thoughts. I read it too and it seemed that it worked out with that bow at the end. I liked Jack and his family more.

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