Sunday, 15 January 2017

Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven: Book Review

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.

Knowing this was the first ever contemporary novel that I have read made me feel slightly uneasy, but my lack of faith in my uncommon interests set me up for a roller coaster ride of a story filled with meaningful themes, fascinating facts /insight about having prosopagnosia, and quotes that you would want to use out in the open world just to prove that you are a cool kid who reads real awesome (and beautifully diverse) modern novels. At this point in time I am honestly shocked at the revelation of my enjoyment during my reading Holding Up The Universe – this was honestly not what I was expecting and I am happy to know now that my two weeks of trying to finish this novel wasn’t exactly wasted (I am absolutely terrible at making myself think that I won’t enjoy a single bit of a book or even a movie).

As I finished the story, the ending acknowledgements hit me right in the heart as I was informed that this book had been inspired by the author’s own childhood – struggling with her weight and being bullied for it, though she continued to do what she loved most: dancing. Libby is the exact embodiment of someone who has gone through absolute hell and back but knows how to put a good fight and speak her mind because who has time to just sit back and take shit anymore? She is basically the chick that everyone would love if they just got to know her and I love that she doesn’t let anyone tell her what she can and can’t do. Through this book we go through her journey of learning to stop hiding behind a tough appearance and start to embrace the beauty and grace she has, while also still being a really awesome chick that doesn’t take shit from anyone. Jack is probably the one male character that isn’t vampire, werewolf, zombie or any other type of supernatural species that you can fall in love with and realise he’s a better male hero than any other with any fancy super powers. Check it out – this guy has prosopagnosia (a condition where a person can’t recognise faces) and he is glad that he is able to spot Libby easily because of her weight being her ‘identifier’. They are literally so perfect for each other!

Now one thing that blew me away was the fact that this book was the most diverse I had ever read. Since slowly easing away from the hurt that was the hate against Sarah J Maas and her most recent release, Empire of Storms, I’ve realised that Holding Up The Universe would appeal to almost anyone in or out of the book community because of how diverse the characters and themes are – including disability, LGBT, ethnicity/people of colour, families that aren’t completely functional or perfect, and even one where the devout Christian isn’t the most annoying character. In fact she is a girl who felt like she failed at being a good friend to Libby years ago as kids and wants to improve now that they’re reunited. Reading it again I might find many more I didn’t realise I’d missed but I honestly feel like this book is one of the most influential and empowering novels of 2016 and if not out of the whole 21st century. Props to Jennifer Niven for using her experiences to inspire a tale that will one day inspire many others to feel more confident like Libby and Jack for being different.

Things I LOVED about Holding Up The Universe! 

·      Libby and Jack are couple goals for every reason in the universe and they literally ‘hold it up’ for each other! Being the complete opposites of typical ‘American standard’ cool kids, it’s heart-warming to finally read a book that takes these tropes and absolutely thrashes them out of style. We need plenty more books like this one in the world because I will be absolutely devastated if I don’t see other authors following suit or even if I don’t get to see more of Jack and Libby (Jennifer, if you’re reading this, please tell me we get at least another couple of novels!).
·      Can I just mention that Libby is absolutely talented in dancing and she won’t let a damned thing stop her from doing it! I am literally falling to pieces waiting for the announcement of Holding Up The Universe to be a movie – I need to see those dance moves that Libby is so famous for and it would just make it all the more beautiful and meaningful. Finally a coloured boy, Jack, is introduced as the popular guy but with a face-blind disability that no one but him knows about. But when he gets to know Libby and sees her dance, he can’t help but fall harder for the only girl he can easily recognise for who she really is. DREAM GOALS!
·      The best and worst thing is that I actually was pretty excited about the way this story played out that it will most likely be optioned to be a movie but it won’t happen for a long while. Since the book only released last October, it burdens me to come to the reality that being a fan of something so life changing will eventually break me. But the only thing I can do now is know that Libby and Jack will eventually return one way or another and continue to read a bunch of other life changing novels until it does happen!
·      The one and only contemporary novel that I’ve ever read is now my favourite contemporary novel and it’ll take pretty much the world to change my mind. I know I still have books like John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, and Paper Towns to read–though two of them I’ve already watched as movies–I’m doubtful that I’ll ever find another contemporary novel as satisfying as this one. Which basically means that I’m all the way back to square one and thinking that I’ll never enjoy this particular genre as much as I do fantasy. Technically that is true anyway but you get what I mean and I need to wrap this up so there. Suck it up – normal human lives usually seem boring to me but feel free to challenge that if you dare (inserts an overly creepy picture of me winking here).

Things I Didn’t Love About Holding Up The Universe…

·      I’ll sum this up quickly… I felt a lot hadn’t been tied up in terms of other issues that had been brought up closer to the end. Plus I need more Jack and Libby together. So if I find out that this is a stand-alone novel then I will not be overly content. That is all. Thank you!

If I had to really give my absolute honest opinion of this book, I would give this book 4.75 stars because there were a few tiny things I noticed were not optimal in terms of accuracy or time or whatever on earth it was. But to be totally fair, due to the beautiful and honest nature of the author being able to provide her readers with such a powerful and informative YA novel using every theme that we’ve all been asking for, this book truly deserves a 5 star rating just for satisfying our community just the way we needed it. Authors needn’t worry too much about overly accurate detailing or forcing themselves to describe every scene in profound detail that our minds bleed. They just need to focus on writing the story with a great plot, relatable characters, and themes that appeal to the target audience. Jennifer Niven has excelled with this task and I have never been more grateful than to have been sent this book by Penguin Random House NZ.

Thank you Penguin Random House for the review copy!

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