Holding Up The Universe Review: Those Moves and That Swagger

October 7, 2016 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 3 stars, Books, Reviews

Holding Up The Universe Review: Those Moves and That SwaggerHolding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
on October 6th 2016
Source: Publisher
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! 


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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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29 responses to “Holding Up The Universe Review: Those Moves and That Swagger

  1. Ohhhh I'm glad you enjoyed it too Cait, I read your review as well! Yeah, Libby just didn't make sense and it was strange cos she was sticking up for her but then like "don't talk to me" kind of thing? I was pretty confused about it as well. Jack was great, he made the book for me!

  2. This sounds like a really important and eye-opening book, but it's a shame you couldn't fully connect to the characters. 🙁 Especially with contemporaries, whether or not you like the characters can often make or break whether or not you like the book. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! <3

    • Yeah, I think I need another contemporary break after this one lol. Sometimes they all feel a bit too much after a while, which is weird.

  3. I think when it comes to being self conscious, it can feel people are staring and casting judgement. Bit like walking into a room when suddenly everyone stops talking. When you're a teen, that can feel amplified and we know how cruel others can be too. I loved Libby but found her unrealistic as well, mainly how easily she forgave Jack. After the Fat Girl Rodeo, I couldn't forgive Jack. By the end I did feel more for him but still found him unlikable. For me, I thought Libby was battling with incredibly low self esteem. Putting up a front and only genuinely herself in the confines of her own room where she felt the safest. I'd love to see more weight positive books too because it can feel as though excess weight equates to unhappiness and feelings of negative self worth. So many girls and women love their bodies and that's something as we should definitely celebrate. Wonderful review Jeann, really enjoyed it <3
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    • Yeah, it is definitely amplified in the book but sometimes it just wasn't realistic and I found myself finding things hard to beleive becuase of that. Both of them actually felt rather unlikable to me at times and I couldn't really understand their decision making you know? Yeah, it's definitely interesting to see Libby and how she battled with low self esteem and weight problems. Thank you Kelly!

  4. Great review, Jeann! I've read this book as well and I'm actually the opposite – I liked Libby better than I liked Jack, whose actions I couldn't really connect with. For me my biggest issue was that in the latter chapters of the book, Libby was portrayed as an exception to Jack's face blindness, which didn't sit well with me. I still loved Jennifer Niven's writing, though. <3

    • Thank you Reg, I'm glad to hear that you ended up liking Libby more! I felt they were both over the place. Yeah, the face blindness thing was just…I dunno, romance doesn't cure all you know? I wonder why that is always the case.

  5. Ooo. I still have yet to read it, but I think I am mainly reading it because it's by Jennifer Niven, and also because Jack has prosopagnosia. I have learned a decent amount about prosopagnosia, and I saw this really sad interview where the interviewer (who was being a meanie and a bitch) showed one of the people a picture of her daughter with the hair cut out. And when she told said person that that was actually her daughter (and commented on the fact that even she couldn't recognize someone related to her) SHE STARTED CRYING. It was really sad. So yeah, I can definitely understand why Jack wouldn't want to offend anyone. I'm not sure if I'll end up liking Libby when I do read this, but I guess we'll see! I would love to read about a character where their weight doesn't define their life, but I think I can understand why it would. Especially with society nowadays. (Though that makes it even more important to have books that do have characters that are comfortable in their own skin)
    My recent post Review: Georgia Peaches And Other Forbidden Fruit

    • Yes, I saw your comment about prosopagnosia and it would definitely be interesting for you to read especially since it's the field that you study! That is actually so sad omg. A lot of people say it's difficult to understand Jack not even recognising their own family, but I guess if that's accurate then it's true. I'm looking forward to hearing what you think about it Val!

  6. Hi, Jeann! I was on hiatus for a while, so I’m catching up now. I missed this book, as many others. I can see how this book while inspirational in some aspects, was problematic in others. I usually have problems when authors overdramaticise in their books, thanks for warning. While I haven’t read a lot of books dealing with this topic, I tend to agree with you that there is no book with overweight protagonists who is ok with it. Great review, very thorough and well-written.
    My recent post Review: Boys Don’t Knit by T.S. Easton

    • Welcome back Ksenia! Yeah, this book was definitely overdramaticised and stretched the imagination in some points. But it was interesting to have these two different protoganists with their struggles, you know?

  7. theliteraryhuntress

    I finished All The Bright Places a few months ago, and I absolutely loved it! I'm so excited about this one, I've never read any book featuring fat main character. I've read a review on goodreads mentioning that Jack's condition was a tinyyy bit unbelieveable, like he couldn't remember his family face, but he could remember Libby's (I forgot whose review is that). Lovely review Jeann, I would definitely try to read this before the year ends!
    My recent post Halloween Read-A-Thon TBR

    • Yeah, there were definitely some things that stretched the imagination here, but it was still an interesting read nonetheless to read about both of what they were facing. I hope you enjoy it lovely!

    • Yeah, Libby was just so inconsistent and I really didn't understand her motivations behind some things. Thanks Marie for stopping by and commenting!

  8. bethwade1

    Alexia Tarabotti from the Soulless series by Gail Carriger is an example of a fat MC who loves the skin she's in and doesn't focus on distracting people from what she looks like. She's the only one I can think of right now who accepts her size and moves on, but surely there are others…(I hope)
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  9. I haven't actually read too many books that feature fat characters as main characters, so this might be an interesting read! Out of the three books you've read though, which one do you think is best? Lovely rejavascript: postComment(0);view! 🙂
    My recent post Reader Confessions Tag!

    • I did think this one was probably the best, I wasn't a fan of Dumplin' or The Diet Starts on Monday (even though that one was from an Aussie Author).

  10. As a fat person, it's always hard for me to pick up books about fat characters. Like I'm not happy with my body at the moment and I'm working towards it, but that doesn't mean I'm always 24/7 going to be anxious about what I look like to people around me and in public. So I'm disappointed that Libby's perceptions are rather overdramatized here.
    Jack sounds fantastic though and I would most definitely want to meet him. I haven't read a Niven book before, but I think I'll make this my first.
    My recent post Kick-Butt Heroine, ZZZ Romance & Conflicted Feelings: The Sight by Chloe Neill

    • Yeah, that's the thing, I have had issues with my weight as well but it doesn't do well to pick up a book to remind myself about it 24/7 you know? It is definitely over-dramaticised as you said. I would veer on it not being realistic because of that. Jack was a great character! I'm looking forward to your thoughts on it.

  11. I could see why you have issues with Libby's character Jeann. I think downgrading herself loses all the point of being fierce towards other people who think she is fat? And you're also right in the end – why do most of these books feature being "fat" as an obstacle to conquer? According to my BMI I'm well overweight and reading about female characters that just self deprecate about their weight doesn't make me feel better at all. Maybe authors should start normalizing it and not make it SUCH A BIG DEAL and have characters embrace it instead of reject it. I don't know, it just seems really dramatized in this story. And as someone who has dealt with degrading comments about her weight since starting middle school from her closest friends and family, it's sad to hear that the mc lets her weight define her.

    • Yeah, I guess it's a start when she can at least stick up for herself but she definitely has a lot of internal struggles she needs to be working on as well. I'm glad to hear from you when it comes to that, I find it CAN be empowering to have these sort of fat characters sticking it out to others, but then it kind of makes you retreat inside yourself because that isn't the way of dealing with it in real life? I completely agree, being dramatised is the problem I have about these books. Sending you love Aila, you look great to me <3

    • Yeah unfortunately the character decisions and motivations didn't completely make sense to me! I hope you enjoy it Grace, looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

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