Title: Holding Up The Universe
Author: Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016
Genre: YA Contenporary, YA Fiction
When it comes to contemporary, I’m a little hesitant. I usually like my stories to have some sort of science fiction or fantasy element and I was convinced I couldn’t love or enjoy a book without it.
I was wrong.
But I digress, as usual…
This title was one I wanted to read. When I get into this, you’ll probably understand the “why” behind it.
Libby Strout was known as America’s Fattest Teen. At 653 pounds, she was housebound. The day came when she had to be removed from her house by a crane to get to the hospital. That alone can lower anyone’s self-esteem, especially when people from the neighborhood crowd around and watch. Talk about humiliating.
Bit Libby’s not that girl anymore. Though she still is over 300 pounds (which may sound like a lot, it’s really not as big as one pictures), Libby can move. Libby can go outside. And Libby can dance. She’s happy in her own skin…most of the time. And it’s time for Libby to go back to school.
Jack Masselin seems like he’s got it all together. He knows how to smile, style his hair so it towers above everyone, and walk with swagger. No one knows that since 6 years old, he’s been face-blind. Prosopagnosia. The area of Jack’s brain that creates the ability to recognize and store faces is damaged. Everyone is a stranger. When mistakes happen, he laughs it off like he’s playing around. He hasn’t been diagnosed: he self-diagnosed so his family won’t know. So his friends won’t know. Because Jack has constructed an image, and if he’s not careful, that image will shatter.
After a mean prank on Libby goes terribly wrong, both Libby and Jack are forced into after-school counseling and community service. Jack feels bad for what he did to Libby, and he writes a letter telling her (and only her) what’s going on with him. He always seems to be able to pick Libby out because she’s the largest girl in the room. But that’s not all Jack is starting to notice about Libby.
Libby loves to dance. She’s also warm and seems to care about what Jack’s going through. Libby and Jack start to talk more, and though both refuse to believe it (Libby because it’s JACK MASSELIN and Jack because it’s LIBBY STROUT), but something is happening between them.
Maybe size doesn’t determine someone’s worth. Maybe not recognizing a face doesn’t mean you’re broken.
Maybe Jack and Libby are good together…they just don’t know it yet.
Yes yes yes! This book is perfect! Insecurity, bullying, mental illness, eating disorders…you name it, this book’s got it! This has a plethora of teachable moments. I could whip up a lesson plan right now and use this in a classroom. So many topics to discuss! And there’s inappropriate (besides a couple instances where Libby fantasizes about “sexing” the weight off her (but who as a teen doesn’t think something like that?).
Lexile.com marks this as HL770L, which means more mature content that can still be understood at lower levels. However, the 770 is pretty high. So this book seems to be perfect for a high school classroom, preferably sophomore or junior year (as a good target audience).
Lexile has me on this one at 14 and up. I agree. This is great for freshman level and up, but I think would do more in the hands of sophomore level readers (unless you have an advanced reader). The themes are complex and there is a lot of self-reflection and discovery. A good study in human behavior. No one is perfect: every e has flaws.
Though Lexile suggests 14 to 18, I would like to mention that there are plenty of 13 year olds that could handle this book. I wouldn’t use it in middle school, but it wouldn’t be horrible to have advanced readers pick this up. I personally wouldvevread this at 10 and been happy…but I had only Stephen King to read, and this is much tamer than that.
I want to let you in on a little secret: I was Libby Strout.
No, I didn’t ever get as high as 600+ pounds, but I was HEAVY. Boys would pretend to ask me out and then laugh if I would say yes. Some boys would “date” me for other reasons, but wouldn’t want anyone to know, so we had to keep it secret. I had one boyfriend in high school, a guy that was three years older, and he treated me like garbage. So yeah, I know Libby’s pain. And I didn’t even know how to dance, so Libby has me beat there.
I’m still plus sized, but many people tell me that they would never believe I weigh as much as I do. I’m working on it, but it’s hard. “Fat” people don’t always eat too much; in fact, many plus sized girls forget to eat. That slows our metabolism down. Exercise sounds like such a simple solution, but when you are heavy, it’s hard to motivate yourself to do anything. Your metabolism (if like mine) makes you sleepy and tired after a long day. I was Libby, and in a lot of ways, I still am Libby. I didn’t try out for anything because I was the “fat” girl, and “fat” girls don’t get to wear uniforms. My old band teacher in eight grade told me if I went another size up over the summer, I wouldn’t have a band costume.
I dropped band after that, and especially after he called me “Jenny.” He didn’t care.
I’d like to think there’s love for all of us Libby Strouts out there. I’ve had some good boyfriends and some bad. Hopefully more books like this will make teens understand that plus size doesn’t mean having just “a pretty face” or wanting to hear, “you would be so much prettier if you just lost the weight.” (Sorry, that my mom talking through me…she told me in third grade to remember that, “nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.”
I was a messed up kid. My mom told the cafeteria lady to not let me buy ice cream…I had a friend who would buy it for me. Ahhh, memories. And I wasn’t even plus-sized then.
See, my mom has the opposite problem: she can’t eat because she’s borderline anorexic. It’s kind of scary.
Ok…enough about me. Let me rate this book. I give Holding Up The Universe ★★★★☆. It was a lovely foray into contemporary for me, and I will always remember the contents of this book.
So that translates to:
All the Bright Places is Jennifer Niven’s first book for young adult readers, but she has written four novels for adults—American Blonde, Becoming Clementine, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, and Velva Jean Learns to Drive—as well as three nonfiction books—The Ice Master, Ada Blackjack, and The Aqua-Net Diaries, a memoir about her high school experiences. Although she grew up in Indiana, she now lives with her fiancé and literary cats in Los Angeles, which remains her favorite place to wander. For more information, visit JenniferNiven.com, GermMagazine.com, or find her on Facebook.
Where to go for more information on Holding Up The Universe:
*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.