Holding Up The Universe
Author: Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Penguin Books
Published: October 4, 2016
Rating: 5/5 stars
Reviewed by AARON DAHMEN
It was posed as another amazing title from Jennifer Niven. A poignant, exhilarating love story.
But I don’t agree.
Because it’s so much more than that.
You may well remember the name Niven; she was the author of All the Bright Places, the film version of which is hitting the big screen in 2017. And I tell you what, the way she weaves her story with relevance and purpose, I don’t think anyone who has read her novels is surprised that book is being made into a film.
Which brings me to Niven’s new creation: Holding Up The Universe.
Simply put, the story follows two young people who try desperately to deal with personal issues in their everyday lives. Libby Strout has a target on her back for the high school game ‘Fat Girl Rodeo’, while Jack Masselin is cool and charming, but cannot recognise faces.
They’re two scenarios which initially appear so out-of-this-world and abstract, that one wonders how the reader can relate. But soon it becomes vividly evident that it most certainly is relatable; who hasn’t been bullied, picked on, or marginalised at some stage in their lives?
From the first page, I was hooked into a world so fantastical and importantly, real, that I couldn’t go back. It gripped me and, well, fair to say I finished the entire book quickly.
Libby is an individual who everyone thinks they know, and is renowned for having to be ‘cut out of her house.’ After the death of her mother, she began eating excessively, with the heavy load of depression descending. Only now is she on the recovery trail, finally returning to school with heightened nerves and unfortunately justified fears of social rejection.
However, in an interesting spin, Libby also displays a real willingness to learn and become part of mainstream society. She wants to, but the question on the reader’s lips is whether or not she is able to.
Jack, meanwhile, has similarities with Libby, although they cannot be detailed directly from the start. He is attractive, cool, and certainly has mastered the art of fitting right in. And yet soon it is revealed that he suffers from a severe case of prosopagnosia – the inability to recognise the faces of familiar people, which arose after he fell off his roof when he was six years old. But no one, not even his family, know about this.
The pair are thrown together after Jack attempts the ‘Fat Girl Rodeo’ stunt on Libby, who takes him out with her fist as a result and lands both of them in school community service.
As the anger and embarrassment subside, a mixture of awkward emotion follows, with both starting to truly feel something for the other. Maybe now is a good time to mention that the novel is written in first person by the characters themselves, with each new chapter dedicated to their thoughts.
As a result, the reader feels privy with each word, to secrets that cannot be revealed to the other. It truly is a different and very engaging reading experience.
There is a wonderful ending to this story, underpinned by incredibly deep messages of love and human connection.
A novel which had me absolutely gripped from the start, Holding Up The Universe was a positively articulate book. In the way of style, formatting and content, it had me holding my breath, pages turning, until the very last. Well worth it, and certainly for any young adult looking for some fantastic summer reading, this was another five-star performance from an author only growing in stock!
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