on October 6th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson
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From the author of the New York Times bestseller All the Bright Places comes a heart-wrenching story about what it means to see someone - and love someone - for who they truly are.
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 see who she really is. Since her mum'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. 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 art of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a 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 own 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, Libby and Jack are both angry, 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.
There’s always something inspiring about reading about a character that doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, or doesn’t let it show. Being about a fat girl and a guy who suffers from face blindness, Holding Up the Universe was a fearless, inspirational hot mess.
I don’t know whether I love or hate Libby Strout. She’s incredibly insecure and is her own harshest critic. Everywhere she goes, she imagines people staring at her, judging her, making ugly comments and gestures about her weight. Yet she’s absolutely fearless, and not afraid to stand up to not only the people who are bullying her, but people who are bullying others. It’s incredibly embarrassing to be referred to as America’s Fattest Teen, who had to be lifted out of her house by a crane because of how obese she had gotten. But sometimes the effects of what other people thought about her was over-dramaticised in the novel – like everyone stopping what they were doing and staring at her as soon as she walked into the room.
Libby is obviously a strong character, but some of her actions didn’t make sense to me. In one instance, she writes on the girl’s bathrooms mean comments about herself. She collects flyers and mean notes to build evidence against the bullying against her. She’s determined to show that she doesn’t care about the bullying, doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her even though she cares, so so much. While I loved her ferocity and strength, I had trouble connecting with her throughout the book because of these decisions.
I did love Jack though, who suffers from prosopagnosia or face blindness. I don’t know much about this condition, but reading it from Jack’s perspective helped me to understand it so much better. It’s utterly terrifying waking up everyday and not recognising the faces of the people you love. From his own family, to his girlfriend or the people that he sees at school everyday, Jack has trouble telling anyone apart. He gets by with his reputation of being a bit of a douchebag and learning people’s mannerisms and gestures.
Although Jack is clearly dealing with his own problems, I did have a problem with the way he handled his father’s affair. He discovers it early on, but never really deals with it. He doesn’t even think about confronting his dad or telling his mum about it, and I don’t know how someone could keep that a secret everyday without letting it affect them. While I liked aspects of both Libby and Jack’s character, they both did (or didn’t do) things that I couldn’t understand.
I suddenly feel old and so, so tired. It’s exhausting, constantly having to search for the people you love.
What Libby and Jack have in common, is that they both suffer from some form of social anxiety. Libby, who’s afraid of being judged and bullied by others for her body weight, and Jack, who’s afraid of being found out about his condition and offending people. So they both hide behind masks and a reputation that hides who they really are. This is what really helps them to connect with one another and to see each other who for they really are, so I found their romance to be quite strengthening for the both of them.
I enjoyed the way the story was told, switching between Libby and Jack’s perspective but also the time jumps from the past, to the present and a few weeks later as the story is told. This made the story progress in a natural way. I also enjoyed the lists that Jack makes up which break up the story, such as How to Make a Robot, His Most Embarrassing Moments, etc.
Holding Up the Universe is the third book I’ve read featuring a fat girl as the main character, and the story always seems to be the same. The character always makes a big statement about not caring what everyone thinks of you so they leave you alone, even though you care, so so much. Is this the fate of all fat characters, someone who is always going to have to go out of their way and make a statement about their weight? Someone who is fearless, outspoken, not afraid of being themselves even though inside they hate themselves? Why can’t there be a fat protagonist who actually loves the skin that she’s in and doesn’t let it define her life?
While I enjoyed Jack and Libby finding each other and sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings, and learning about prosopagnosia and face blindness, I had trouble connecting with the characters because of some of their decisions. There were also some parts that were overdramaticised which brought me back to reality of this book. While Holding Up the Universe is an inspirational and eye-opening read, it wasn’t without it’s flaws.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Thanks to Penguin Random House for sending me a review copy of this book!