book review: holding up the universe by jennifer niven


Publisher: Penguin Books (UK)
Release date: October 4, 2016
Genres: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 400
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads Blurb:

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.


Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

After all the drama surrounding the original Goodreads synopsis of this book, I wasn’t planning on reading Holding Up the Universe. But then I saw it on Netgalley and requested it on an impulse because I had more or less enjoyed All The Bright Places, Niven’s first book. Anyway, I’m really glad I gave this book a chance because I ended up enjoying it!

Holding Up the Universe is told from the perspective of two characters: Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. Libby used to be “America’s fattest teen” but now she’s lost a ton of weight and she’s ready to go back to school. Jack, on the other hand, has prosopagnosia (aka face-blindness). This means he can’t recognize the faces of his family, friends, and/or neighbours. 

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Libby but I definitely admired her courage. I was bullied too and I still can’t imagine confronting haters like a badass. Libby’s also very blunt and isn’t scared to tell it how it is, which is definitely hard to do.

“It’s my experience that the people who are most afraid are the ones who hide behind mean and threatening words.”

Libby also had a tendency to justify all her decisions – especially the bad ones and sometimes I’d find myself scratching my head at her reasoning. For example, she writes a bunch of mean things about herself on a bathroom wall and….I just feel like vandalising school property (in order to write basically bully yourself?!) isn’t the best idea. But even though Libby didn’t acknowledge her bad decisions, I realized that all these little flaws only made Libby’s character more realistic (if a bit frustrating).

As for Jack, he was definitely my favorite of the two characters. He’s charming” and “hilarious” but he’s also more than that. He does some really dumb things and to a stranger, it would seem like he’s just an average teenage boy. But he’s not, thanks to his prosopagnosia.

“Everyone in my life is a stranger, and that includes me.”

This inability to recognize the people in his life leaves him feeling lost and confused. And being inside Jack’s head made me realize just how much of a show some people put on to hide the truth. There are so many moments in this book when he’s internally freaking out but on the outside, all everyone sees is a confident guy who’s just messing around. I empathized with Jack and I found myself rooting for him despite occassionally disapproving of his behavior. 

I admit I did find myself getting a little bored sometimes while reading Holding Up the Universe but overall, this book was fast-paced and interesting! I would wholeheartedly recommend it – especially for the diversity and quirky characters. 


2 thoughts on “book review: holding up the universe by jennifer niven

  1. Lovely! I had to quickly skim through the post as I didnt want to read any spoilers but none! Thank you! Had no idea she released a new book and I am so excited to read it especially after All The Bright Places. 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Hm well I’m pretty sure there aren’t any spoilers in the review but when it comes to contemporary fiction, I suppose it’s always more fun to go in blind & find out more about the characters as the book progresses. I hope you enjoy Holding Up The Universe!

      Liked by 1 person

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