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Holding Up the Universe

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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 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 in new and bad-ass ways, 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.

Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are—and seeing them right back.

400 pages, Kindle Edition

First published April 4, 2016

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About the author

Jennifer Niven

34 books14.2k followers
Jennifer Niven is the Emmy Award-winning #1 New York Times and International bestselling author of ten books, including All the Bright Places and Holding up the Universe. Her books have been translated in over 75 languages, and All the Bright Places has won literary awards around the world, including the GoodReads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction of 2015. It was named a Best Book of the Year by Time Magazine, NPR, the Guardian, Publisher's Weekly, YALSA, Barnes & Noble, BuzzFeed, the New York Public Library, and others, and was the #1 Kids' Indie Next Book for Winter '14-'15. The film starring Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Luke Wilson, and Keegan-Michael Key, is now streaming on Netflix, with a script by Jennifer and Liz Hannah (The Post).

Jennifer is currently at work on her fourth and fifth novels for young adults, with number three— Breathless— coming out September 29. She also oversees Germ, a literary and lifestyle web magazine for girls and boys age high school and beyond that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in between. Her previous works include four novels for adults, as well as three nonfiction books. She divides her time between Los Angeles and coastal Georgia with her husband, kids, and literary cats.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 11,378 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,964 reviews294k followers
October 9, 2016
“Maybe no boy will love me or want to touch me ever, even in a dark room, even after an apocalypse when all the skinny girls have been wiped off the earth by some horrible plague. Maybe one day I can be thinner than I am now and have a boyfriend who loves me, but I’ll still be a liar.”

I was going to give this book two stars because, honestly, it started well. It was compelling and didn't seem as offensive as the blurb had been, but the more I think about it, the more that doesn't seem to be enough of an excuse for the book as a whole. Yet another book that insensitively uses its characters to create an angsty romance.

If anything, I feel more secure in my assessment of All the Bright Places after reading this book. I got the impression in AtBP that the author was using suicide as a vehicle for romantic angst, and I received a lot of backlash for writing that review. But this just seems to confirm it. I feel like Niven has given very little thought to what it means to portray an obese character and a character with a cognitive disorder. I feel like little thought has been given to any readers who might relate to these characters. I can't help but imagine the author sitting there and simply thinking “how can I make this romance super angsty?"

I don't necessarily care that Libby Strout (Libby as in "Lb" and Strout as in "Stout"?!) was called "America's Fattest Teen" or that a major plot point is a game called "Fat Girl Rodeo". These things are gross and offensive, but showing the horrible effects of labels and cruel bullying does not seem like a bad thing to me. No, the bigger problem is that this book actually isn't about bullying, or fat-shaming, or living with mental illness, it's about high school love. That's it. The rest is just window dressing.

The author throws together two teens who are solely characterized by their weight and prosopagnosia (the inability to recognize faces) and, despite having zero chemistry, they fall in lurrrve. They are defined by these singular differences - i.e. being the "fat girl" and being unable to recognize anyone, never once feeling like human beings.

I'm sure some readers will see the decision to have such different protagonists as an indication of depth, but I truly feel like this is a very shallow book. Stereotypes and cliches abound. Dress it up however you want, but this book is about an unpopular girl who sees herself as unattractive, and a popular good-looking guy who comes to see how said girl is so much better than all those hot, evil cheerleaders he's been dating. His hot, evil girlfriend constantly fat-shames and bullies Libby, obviously, because we all know pretty popular girls are mean, shallow and have no feelings.

Also - and this is way more offensive to me than the blurb was - Libby's journey to self-love seems to entirely revolve around finding a guy who will actually like her. I was hoping this would be addressed as the novel wore on, but the small rushed steps toward it at the end were dissatisfying.
“Somewhere in this school could be a boy I fall in love with. One of these fine young men might be the one who at long last claims my heart and my body. I’m looking at all the boys going by. It could be that guy or maybe this one."

Or she could learn to love herself without a guy? Also, what teenager says "fine young men"?

The pacing also slows down as the story moves forward. I remember feeling at one point like the book should be coming to an end, and yet there were almost another hundred pages to go. You knew the characters had feelings for one another, you knew they were going to end up together, but the narrative was dawdling.

Then there's my disbelief that Jack has managed to hide face-blindness from his family for years. That seems impossible to me, but I guess this book never was about the reality of the issues it offered up.

And, finally, nauseating prose like this:
The way I feel when I’m with her. Like I just swallowed the sun and it’s shooting out of every pore.

And Libby's eyes...

They are like lying in the grass under the sky on a summer day. You’re blinded by the sun, but you can feel the ground beneath you, so as much as you think you could go flying off, you know you won’t.

There's not a single guy in the world who could tell me I make them feel like they "swallowed the sun and it's shooting out of every pore" without me bursting into hysterical laughter. But, let's be honest, that's the least of this book's problems.

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Profile Image for Patty .
818 reviews370 followers
Want to read
August 18, 2016
05/05/2016: WE HAVE A COVER <3!!!!

My reaction to everyone saying this book is offensive....
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At first I wasn't going to say anything but then the comments and review updates on here and Twitter started to really hit a nerve with me. So HERE WE GO.

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To everyone saying that this book/synopsis is offensive, how about we stop and take a moment to consider the fact that A) Maybe she didn't write the synopsis B) Maybe it's how the character feels about herself C) Maybe, just maybe this is someone's story who wants to share it with everyone or D) ALL OF THE ABOVE.

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Everyone is so quick to point and blame Jennifer Niven for being offensive, for romanizing mental illness, for not "understanding" fatness. How about YOU consider the fact that YOU are taking everything out of context, or that YOU are making this into something it's not. In no way, shape, or form is Jennifer Niven trying to discriminate against being fat or implying that your not human. THIS IS HOW THE CHARACTER FEELS!! But you know what, if you don't want to read this, fine, DON'T READ IT!! But don't you dare make others feel uncomfortable or put them down because they actually want to READ THE BOOK FIRST BEFORE JUDGING IT, because WE actually have the decency to not be biased and go into a book with an open mind instead of making assumptions.

I'm done.

She has another book coming out!!

I have a feeling Holding Up the Universe will break my heart just like ATBP did o.O
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Me waiting for October 4th 2016
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Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,574 reviews5,911 followers
February 10, 2017
Welcome to the internet in the year 2016. Where a simple book blurb broke the internet for a few days. A teenage girl who was rescued from her house because her weight kept her a prisoner. Then through in a statement about how she is returning to high school aka..the real world after being homeschooled.
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I KNOW!! Let's all run and one star and bash the book.


And all you guys thought I was the biggest bully on here didn't you?

Because I had (for once) stopped to think about what the book meant..and it made me drool all over myself.
I didn't jump on the bandwagon. I wanted the book even more.
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Because I've been a bit on the fat side many times in my life. I lose some weight and then I gain some weight. Big dang deal. (I can say that now-I couldn't when I was this character's age.) I home-school my kid. AND YES sometimes we talk about him joining the 'real world' again. Does that mean he is socially awkward? Hell no.

This book is something that if I had it in high-school I would have highlighted ever stinking line of it. It would have became my Shelby bible of how to deal with all the assholes that dwell in high-school. (and real life)

These characters:
Libby Stout, she is the girl that was taken from her house. By a crane. Because her mom had died suddenly and she could not cope. Food became her crutch, her dad didn't know how to deal with it and tried..he did try. But when someone is bent on self destruction-sometimes that path can't be detoured. She does finally reach that point (when the crane is brought out) that her dad knows that help is needed. He wants to save his daughter. He gets her help.
Then comes to the point in the story where she is going back to school. She has lost some weight, she is still overweight by public opinion. BUT this girl totally knows who she is.

For example..on the first day back at school.
"Hey," he says.
"Is it true fat girls give better blow jobs?"
"I don't know. I've never gotten a blow job from a fat girl.".

Jack Masselin: This kid hides the fact that he recognizes no one's face. Not even his own family. He once screamed that his mom was kidnapping him because she had gotten a haircut and he didn't have the familiar markers to place her in his mind.
He plays the cool guy at school but he lives in fear that someone will discover his secret.

Then they end up in group counseling together. This is not a boy rescue the fat girl story. This is a story of two people realizing who exactly they are..and owning it.
People are shitty for a lot of reasons. Sometimes they're just shitty people. Sometimes people have been shitty to them and, even though they don't realize it, they take that shitty upbringing and go out into the world and treat others the same way. Sometimes they're shitty because they're afraid. Sometimes they choose to be shitty to others before others can be shitty to them. So it's like self-defensive shittiness.

Books like this are exactly why I read young adult.

Jennifer Nevin, I hope you pat yourself on the back. And the haters?
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Profile Image for Caitlin.
339 reviews700 followers
February 6, 2017

I read All the Bright Places last year and ended up dnfing it because I had huge problems with basically every aspect of it. I’m actually really proud of myself for finishing this even though I did skim read the last 25% of it. Honestly, when this book first came out I saw the authors name and instantly avoided this book. However, after seeing a lot of people give it 5 stars – despite all of the problematic aspects I had seen – I decided to pick this book up for the roast.

Honestly, you can read the blurb and be offended. I sure was. The blurb is a joke, just like the rest of the book. I’m honestly so sick of contemporaries in the present day that are just based around putting 2 characters in the worst possible situation and then forcing them to fall in love – I say forcing because there is 0 chemistry between these characters. I swear some authors just have a big long list of mental illnesses, diseases or unfortunate scenarios that they scroll down and eeny, meeny, miny, moe which ones they will choose. Dead parent for you, random illness for you, a bit of anxiety on the side as well as extreme obesity and we’ve got our perfect story!!!! Everyone will definitely love it!!!!! I strongly question the motives behind writing a novel such as this one.


I’m trying to decide whether I hate Libby or Jack more. I think it must be Libby because dammit she’s annoying as all hell. I actually sent my friends 14 different video rants and then another couple text rants about how annoying this bitch is. In case you forgot I don’t think you could possibly forget because she mentions it every single sentence, Libby was once the World’s Fattest Teen and she’s still obese but she has lost a bit of weight. My main problem with her is that she really does not want to be known as the fat girl anymore but she’s CONSTANTLY talking about it. Her entire inner monologue is just about her weight and omfg it was so infuriating. Also, when she becomes friends with another fat girl she legit says ”she talks about her weight a lot.” You’re telling me that this bitch who constantly talks about being fat is complaining that her other fat friend talks about her weight a lot. What on Earth is this bullshit.

Also, let’s not forget that on her first day of school she walked in and said this to herself:
"Somewhere in this school could be a boy I fall in love with. One of these fine young men might be the one who at long last claims my heart and my body. I am the Pauline Potter of Martin Van Buren High School. I am going to sex the rest of this weight right off me.”

Let’s also not forget that when she describes her bed, she has to clarify that this is NOT the bed she had when she was trapped in her house because she was so fat:
“I lie on my bed—not the same bed I spent twenty-four hours a day on, back when I couldn’t leave the house, but a new one we bought after I lost some weight."


Jack was just a straight up annoying douche and the only thing I liked about this entire book is that he told his little brother that it’s okay if he takes a purse to school because he can do whatever he wants. I appreciate that. I think Jack says it best when he describes himself by saying he really looks like an asshole . I agree, Jack. I agree. But then a few chapters later he says that the song “Sexy Back” is something that should be played when he walks somewhere. For the love of God please shut up Jack.

Also every other character in this story, like in All the Bright Places, offers absolutely nothing to the storyline and they only add to that awful stereotype that “everyone in high school is an asshole” and “the world is against me because everyone hates me in school”.

A major problem I have with this authors work in general is that the characters are incredibly one dimensional. Hell, I think it'd be too complex for them to even have a favourite colour - that's how much depth they have. Like in All the Bright Places, these characters are only their physical traits or illnesses and that is extremely harmful. I know that these things can be all consuming but there's a HUGE difference between it being all consuming and it being your entire personality and story.

If you ignore all of the above problems, this book is still crappy. It’s just a badly written “love story” where 2 characters act like idiots and then “fall in love” despite there being no chemistry. Also, don’t forget that Jack can’t recognise anyone’s face. Ever. BUT DON’T WORRY BECAUSE AT LEAST HE CAN RECOGNISE LIBBY. I mean isn’t that just an amazing loophole. I honestly am not entirely sure if that is a legit thing that could happen. I tried googling it but I couldn’t find anything decent about whether there are actually loopholes. Never forget guys, love can cure everything - including mental illnesses, obesity and MOST IMPORTANTLY RANDOM BRAIN ILLNESSES THAT MAKE YOU FORGET EVERYONES FACE!!!!!!! Just fall in love and you're fixed.

These are not the type of books we need in our lives and I would not recommend this book to anyone.

Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,470 reviews9,636 followers
January 8, 2017
You know I don't care what anyone thinks, I just loved the hell out of this book! I happy cried so many times in this book. And there will probably be some *SPOILERS* I don't know, my feels right now are out of control.


This review is going to be all over the place because I'm crazy and that's just the way it is.

I love Libby so much! In this book she has so much courage. Even when she was low and things hurt her, she had courage like no one I know. Those hateful, horrible kids said some of the most horrible things to her. I just can't fathom.

My name is Libby Strout. You've probably heard of me. You've probably watched the video of me being rescued from my own house. At last count, 6,345,981 people have watched it, so there's a good chance you're one of them. Three years ago, I was American's Fattest Teen. I weighed 653 pounds at my heaviest, which means I was approximately 500 pounds overweight. I haven't always been fat. The short version of the story is that my mom died and I got fat, but somehow I'm still here. This is no way my father's fault.

Two months after I was rescued, we moved to a different neighborhood on the other side of town. These days I can leave the house on my own. I've lost 302 pounds. The size of two entire people. I have around 190 left to go, and I'm fine with that. I like who I am. For one thing, I can run now. And ride in the car. And buy clothes at the mall instead of special-ordering them. And I can twirl. Aside from no longer being afraid of organ failure, that may be the best thing about now versus then.

Tomorrow is my first day of school since fifth grade. My new title will be high school junior, which, let's face it, sounds a lot better than America's Fattest Teen. But it's hard to be anything but TERRIFIED OUT OF MY SKULL.

I wait for the panic attack to come.

And of course we all know when she gets to school the jerkholes start bullying her! I hate them so much I could just scream!


But Libby is a force of nature. She don't take too much shite from anyone! She ignores it or in case of boys, she just knocks them on their arse! She my hero!

This is the way she meets the other main character, Jack. I love him too. I will get to him in a minute. He's going to do something to Libby that is a horrible prank for the big girls. He puts a note in her bag before talking about it and apologizing, but he gets what he deserves =)

I'm lying on the cafeteria floor, and the girl is standing over me. My jaw feels knocked loose, it's over somewhere in Ohio. I give it a rub to make sure it's still attached, and my hand comes away covered in blood.

I say, "What the hell?" My words are garbled. Jesus, I think she broke my voice box. "Why did you punch me?"


My eyes go to her backpack, to the letter sticking out of the pocket I just managed to shove it into. I want to say You'll understand later, but I can't speak because I'm wiping the blood from my mouth.

Jack is popular dude at the school, but he has a big problem. He has prosopagnosia.

PROSOPAGNOSIA: 1. An inability to recognize the faces of familiar people, typically as a result of damage to the brain. 2. when everyone is a stranger.

Jack has figured this out for himself by research. He has never told his family or friends. He gets away with it by other means. You can read the book and find out.

When Libby was little she lived across the street from three boys and I loved it because she called them Sam, Dean and Cas =) She loved the show "Supernatural" too. They were her only friends, well friends in her head. Until that day she was taken from her home by crane and moved away.

The story goes back and forth to things that happened in the past to the present. And, it wasn't confusing at all. I'm surprised because I get confused easy!

It turns out that Libby and Jack are pushed together by being in a group after school for being bad. Then they start to get to know each other and it's so fun and it's so wonderful. They help each other. And yeah, some sad stuff happens but it all works out in the end.

And let me tell you, there is one part where Libby stands up to the whole school in such a way that I cried my eyes out. I wish I could add the excerpt like the other ones but it's one you should read for yourself. I just love her. Did I say that already? This book makes me feel sad, mad and good. Libby makes me feel good for so many reasons and that's enough for me. I will read this many times and get some inspiration from Libby. I wish I had a friend like her. The saddest part is, I almost didn't read this book because of so many negative reviews. It does have a lot of good reviews but now I don't care what people think, I read what I want and I'm glad. I found a gem that works for ME! ♥

*I got this print book through the BloggingForBooks Program*

MY BLOG: Melissa Martin's Reading List
Profile Image for Ninoska Goris.
262 reviews157 followers
September 9, 2018
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La historia está narrada desde los puntos de vista de Libby y Jack.

Libby hace varios años y siendo una niña sufrió una pérdida muy grande en su vida, lo que la llevó a comer para llenar el vacío de su corazón. Llegó a ser "La chica más gorda de América" y después de muchas terapias y de años estudiando desde la casa vuelve a la escuela. Tendrá que probar muchas veces que es mucho más que su peso.

Jack desde hace años sufre una terrible condición que lo obliga a estar todo el tiempo en alerta y a tener por amigos y novia a las personas menos indicadas. Pero cuando el destino lo une a Libby comenzará a ver todo de manera diferente y aceptar lo inimaginable.

Adoré este libro, me hizo llorar algunas veces, pero fueron lágrimas de felicidad. Libby siendo aún una adolescente te puede enseñar unas cuantas reglas para aplicar en tu vida y Jack es el mejor ejemplo.


The story is told from the points of view of Libby and Jack.

Libby several years ago and being a little girl suffered a very great loss in her life, which led her to eat to fill the emptiness of her heart. She became "The fattest girl in America" and after many therapies and several years of studying from home she goes back to school. She will have to prove many times that she is much more than her weight.

Jack has for years suffered a terrible condition that forces him to be on alert all the time and to have for friends and girlfriend the people less indicated. But when destiny unites him to Libby he will begin to see everything differently and accept the unimaginable.

I loved this book, it made me cry sometimes, but it was tears of happiness. Libby being still a teenager can teach you a few rules to apply in your life and Jack is the best example.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,535 reviews32.6k followers
June 24, 2019
ah, yes. so here we are again. the classic case of ‘i can appreciate this book for the story that it is, but it definitely didnt live up to its potential.’

and i wonder if thats mainly my own fault, and not the books. ‘all the bright places’ is one my favourite novels ever. its emotionally compelling, lovingly tender, and naturally raw - everything this book is not. so is it fair to judge a different book by the same author when you know they are capable of doing better?

i mean, i really like the idea of the story and how wholesome it could have been - i think diverse representation is something that can always be appreciated. but instead of seeing libby as this strong woman, i saw a whiny brat. and the connection between her and jack didnt feel convincing to me. it was just a lot of superficial high school drama. maybe im getting too old, but i know jennifer niven is capable of writing honest and relatable teen characters, so im not sure why this particular story didnt quite meet the mark for me.

3 stars
Profile Image for Warda.
1,154 reviews18.5k followers
August 12, 2017
REREAD! I fell in love with this book allll over again! I adore Libby. I adore what she stands for. I love what this book stands for. The hope it instills. How personal it is to the author and how appreciative I am that she shared her story with us. I'm rooting for this book! I'm rooting for myself. I'm rooting for all the readers who have ever felt less than. As Libby would say about herself, ‘I am magic!’, and so, as are you.

Initial review!
I'm sure a lot of you will remember the ton of backlash this book received when the blurb was revealed. I mean, let's not get into that aspect of people having the audacity to judge and write-off a book when they haven't read a single page of it. It's aggravating to the core!

So, having read the book, yes, there is a lot of 'fat-shaming' that's mentioned throughout the book. Fat-shaming that the main character has to deal with, i.e. the bullying she goes through, because of her weight. But also the main character 'fat-shaming' herself, because of her insecurity, as a direct result of the bullies and other factors.

I personally don't see how this is a problem, to bring to light this sort of issue. Yes, it was slightly uncomfortable to read at times, making it real and raw. But we ask for diverse and complex books/characters, then moan when a 'controversial' topic is raised. This is exactly the kind of realistic bullshit some people unfortunately, have to deal with, as ugly as it may seem. As well as the insecurity and the mental-health issues that come alongside it. I don't understand how it was even assumed that the author was ridiculing people who deal with weight and mental-health problems. If perhaps they'd waited a little longer for some clarification, and did their research, they'd have known that this topic is quite personal to the author.

But that's not all that the book is about. Yes, the character struggles with her weight, she's insecure to an extent, but she's absolutely fuckin' strong!!! She's almost sure about who she is. As sure as a teenager can be. She refuses to let her weight define her, stand in her way of her dreams, and fights the fuck back against anyone that dares to ridicule her. And she's happy, dammit!

This element is what made the book for me. She was headstrong to begin with, because she made herself be so! Though there are romantic aspects, her problems didn't magically disappear, because there was a guy in her life. But she refused to hide her true self.

Because of this, I feel that this book is so empowering! A book that those who feel that can relate to Libby, can find strength in. Though Libby encompasses aspects of her personality that may contradict or clash — i.e. being insecure, yet not giving a flying fuck about anyone — it's a great message that one can take away. You're never fully one or the other, anyway.

This is what I personally got from this book. I guess, like every other book, people will interpret it differently, according to their own understanding and worldview. And this is mine.

Initial review:
Okay, wow. It's 4am. Read this book in less than a day. My heart is floating. I'm dying with feels.

I was not expecting to love this book so much.
Profile Image for Christy.
3,818 reviews32.4k followers
December 5, 2016
4 stars!

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Holding Up the Universe was an interesting and moving read with complex characters and a unique storyline. I listened the the audio version of this book and once I hit play, I didn’t want to stop. When I read All the Bright Places earlier this year, I had the same feeling of being hooked. I’m happy to report the author was able to pull this off not once, but twice.

Our story centers around Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. Libby is formally ‘America’s Fattest Teen’. She’s spent a lot of her young adult life getting healthy and she is nowhere near thin, but she’s happy with herself. She decides to take the plunge, stop homeschooling and go to high school. Libby is a fantastic character. I loved that she’s just herself. She has a great relationship with her dad and meets some good friends throughout this journey for her. She also meets Jack Masselin in a very unconventional way.

Jack’s got it good in high school, or so everything thinks. He’s popular, has a pretty girlfriend and a lot of friends. He’s funny, charming and cool. But he struggles every single moment of every single day. See, Jack has this secret. He can’t recognize faces. I can’t even imagine how that would feel. To wake up each morning, look at my husband and not recognize his face. That’s how it is for Jack. He knows his brother’s hair style, and he can tell his other brother by his ears, but the system is not flawless. Libby is the only one who knows about this and is able to help him. He doesn't always deserve her help, but that's not the point. It's just the way Libby is. I love her for it.

Jack and Libby’s relationship is complicated at first. The way they meet, the reason they’re spending so much time together. Their friendship grew and developed as the story progressed. I loved them both and I loved that they had each others backs. Jack won me over early on, just knowing he was rooting for Libby from the very start warmed my heart. Even though there were some hard to read moments, the story, overall, was a positive one. I felt happy when I finished. I give this one 4 stars!
Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

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Profile Image for Charnell (Reviews from a Bookworm).
697 reviews404 followers
January 27, 2016
I don't usually rate before reading but I am doing it here. If others who haven't read it can give it a 1 based on a synopsis, then I feel free to rate it a 5/5 before reading.

I have a few questions:

1. Why are people getting annoyed and commenting that a 'skinny' author shouldn't be writing about a 'fat' person?!? Are we saying that authors should only write about what they are? No more white authors writing about anything other than a white character then. George R.R. Martin please stop publishing, you've never been a dragon or a woman so I think you need to stop writing about them. J.K. Rowling, are you a witch... No?!? Take back HP, it's all lies!

2. The human race thing... Why are people sniping in on that? Do they not understand the context. It's not saying she's finally rejoining the human world because she wasn't human before. It talks about the fact she was homeschooled... away from others. She's going back to school... rejoining the human race is just a quirky way of putting it. I've used similar phrases when I've returned to work after two weeks off sick.

3. The crane: This has been a reality for so many people who are very overweight so why can't it be wrote about or shown in movies!?! >.<

Gah. Maybe wait till you've read the book before you judge every little thing about it. It's like a 100 word synopsis for god sake >.<
Profile Image for Aj the Ravenous Reader.
1,030 reviews1,045 followers
December 7, 2016
“I know what you’re thinking- if you hate it so much and it’s such a burden, just lose the weight, and then that job will go away. But I’m comfortable where I am. I may lose more weight. I may not. But why should what I weigh affect other people? I mean unless I’m sitting on them, who cares?”

To be honest, I was not a fan of All the Bright Places and I wouldn’t have been this curious about Holding Up the Universe had it not been for the controversy that erupted long before its release. But the more the issue grew, the more I got so pulled to the book that I just had to buy it when it was out on our local bookstores. This time, my gut feel was right and the book is completely worth all my curiosity.

Let me help out our community of readers by pointing straight out what the book is/what it is not so as to avoid judging it just by its blurb alone.

But before that, just an excerpt from the book about “judging” *winks*: “Life is too short to judge others. It is not our job to tell someone what they feel or who they are. Why not spend some time judging yourself? I don’t know you, but I can guarantee you have some issues you can work on. And maybe you’ve got a fit body and a perfect face, but I’ll wager you have insecurities too…”

What the book is:

✔ A contemporary romantic novel so yes, it could be cheesy with several cheesy romantic declarations a girl wouldn’t normally hear from a guy [Now if you don’t like this stuff, then it’s probably not for you. ;)]

✔ It’s about mental illness. Both Libby and Jack suffer from unique sorts of mental illness. Libby suffered from depression while Jack has face-blindness or prosopagnosia.

✔ A serious read but approached with light, almost comic writing style that addresses social issues with positive conviction and inspiration.

✔ A moving, uplifting story that encourages people to be comfortable in their own skin, in their physical appearance/condition because that is what makes every person uniquely beautiful.

What the book is not:

✖ It's not about a fat girl whose life changes because of a cool guy. It’s actually about a cool girl and an equally cool guy who have decided to accept who and what they are even if that isn’t what is generally accepted by society.

✖ It’s not about a skinny guy telling the story of a fat girl. It’s about a special guy who sees a special girl not because of her physical weight but of her inner weight, because she has the biggest heart, because she matters greatly.

✖ It’s not trying to romanticize mental illness. It’s simply trying to say that everyone should have an equal chance at everything this life has to offer and yes even though it may sound cheesy, that does include love life, romance and all.

✖ It’s not against life. In fact, it’s very pro-life. It’s not about just moving on after a loss of a loved one but moving differently, creating new experiences and living life anew.

I agree with my friend, (Ate) Shelby. (Do check out her awesome, very insightful review by clicking her name). Ms. Jennifer Niven does deserve a pat on the back. If or when I meet her in person, I’m definitely giving her a big, big hug. <3
Profile Image for Fuzaila.
251 reviews360 followers
July 19, 2018
For everyone who felt that this book is offensive and fat-shaming and trying to garner attention by portraying cognitive disorder - PLEASE KNOW THAT, THIS IS AN #OWNVOICES STORY. JENNIFER NIVEN HERSELF HAD OBESITY ISSUES AND THE PROSOPAGNOSIA PLOT-POINT WAS INSPIRED BY SOMEONE SHE PERSONALLY KNEW. You’d know this if you read the Author’s note. And let’s all give the author space to write about what she wants. Thanks.

image source: Patty's review

Holding Up The Universe is narrated in the point of view of two teens - Jack Masselin, who has a brain disorder called prosopagnosia which makes him unable to recognize faces, even the faces of his family and loved ones; and Libby Strout, who was once entitled ‘America’s Fattest Teen’. Libby’s lost her mother in an accident and has lost quite some weight since then. But she’s still the fat girl at Martin Van Buren High School. The two become acquainted in detention classes and realize they’re two outcasts with similar problems. Doing full justice to the themes it addresses, THIS IS A BOOK YOU NEED TO READ. Not for the romance, but for the message, for the underlying subject of dealing with obesity and questioning the general norms of beauty in our society.


I loved Niven’s writing in All the Bright Places and I adored it here. Her immaculate consistent flow is very easy to read. BUT. Niven uses these silly similes and metaphors that probably was meant for emphasis, but felt nothing short of ridiculous.
Like, see this –

“I feel my stomach drop and land somewhere around the gas pedal.”

Umm, whutt?? Girl, you’re dead then.

Or this –

“My heart goes hopscotching out of the room and down the hall and out the door and into the street”

Like, WTF?? Just picture that and tell me if you survive.

And this comes right after –

“And now my heart is nowhere on earth to be found. I can see it as it bypasses the moon and the stars and goes blasting into another galaxy”

Me: *dead*


• Fat Girl Rogue is the stupidest game I’ve ever heard of.
• Like, ‘hug-a-fat-girl-and-squeeze-the-hell-out-of-her’?? Seriously, WhO cOmES uP WiTh SuCH sHIt??
• Jack’s brother Dusty is a lil’ munchkin I’d like to cuddle.
• Also, DIVERSITY. Jack’s half-black.
• Idk how any kid can live up to 16 years without their parents not recognizing they have prosopagnosia.
• Jack’s parents are either very ignorant or Jack is very potent at hiding his condition from them. UNREALISTIC
• But why would anyone want to hide their prosopagnosia from their parents?
• Wait, Brad Pitt has prosopagnosia?? O.o
• THANK GOD, no insta-love
• And YET
The Libby-Jack romance was forced. Unrealistic. Unsatisfying. Every other un-insert_suitable_word_here
• If you ask me, the prosopagnosia rep was rather dull.
• I still can’t picture how a prosopagnosiac person sees faces. It’s confusing, and may I say, NOT DESCRIBED WELL
• Also did you know, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the newest addition to my tbr.
• It makes me effing happy to see characters talking about books and referencing books
• Libby Strout gives me self-esteem goals.
• And Libby’s dad is THE BEST

“You realize you’ve just asked me if you can skip school and borrow money in the same conversation? You realize I’m the world’s best dad?”


• Look at this –

“I look at Elise’s perfect hair and face and figure. Of course people love to watch her dance. Of course she marries the prince. I wonder what would have happened if Elise had looked like me”.

• ^^This book dwells on everything that’s wrong with the world. Like, look at fairy tales for instance. Every other girl is skinny and fair with perfect blond or black hair and blue/green eyes. No fat princesses, no zits ever on any of those flawless faces. No people of color. Same falls for the Princes too. Except for The Beast who also turns out to be a handsome young prince. I mean, more than half of the population is overweight and non-white but we’ve been raised on these stupid stories filled with stereotypes since the beginning of the world. That you need to look good and ooze beauty for you to have a fairy-tale-happy-ending. hOW THE FRIGGING FRIG DOES THAT WORK??
• If you think Libby talks of being fat all the time, think again. That’s what they’re being told Every. Single. Time. They can’t just forget the fact that whenever people look at them they’re being judged for their weight. That’s an accurate rep imo. NOTHING WRONG WITH A FAT GIRL THINKING SHE’S FAT BECAUSE WHAT ELSE IS SHE SUPPOSED TO THINK OF WHEN WE THE PEOPLE DON’T BOTHER TO TELL HER ANYTHING ELSE??
• The ending? Nah. I don’t buy that. I wasn’t really invested in the romance, and frankly this book is more than just the romance. It doesn’t dominate the book. It doesn’t dwindle the actual message.

Even with the problematic writing at some places and the unromantic romance, I’d say this book is still a must read. The way it addresses the issue of obesity is what won me over. Of course, it’s nowhere near good as All the Bright Places and don’t expect it to be heartbreaking either. Just read it!


* * * * * * * * * * * *

Initial review -

Forget Leah Burke and every other fat girl, LIBBY STROUT IS WHOM YOU SHOULD BE READING ABOUT
Profile Image for ♛ may.
806 reviews3,797 followers
November 9, 2017
There are many things that irritate me about this book, but irritate is a strong word compared to how I feel, because honestly, I just feel so INDIFFERENT towards everything and everyone

And that’s probably why this tragedy happened. If you’re looking for the problem*tic aspects of this book, idk it didn’t really find it to be offensive.


- Personally, I LOVED all the bright places, like it killed me with the ending and I felt so sad inside but I also loved it
- But this book was kinda a let down, poor may
- So theres a lot of diversity going on, and that’s awesome. That’s great, that’s fabulous but like that’s the only defining feature to the characters
- Jack is a mixed (half black, half white I believe) who got this condition where he cant recognize faces
- Libby is a fat girl (once referred to as the FATTEST GIRL IN AMERICA) who is going back to school after being homeschooled since like gr7 or something
- But like the book isn’t entirely focused on their issues
- But like it has the feel of discussing body image but its not really and its about prosopagnosia and then its not
- I’m sorry im not explaining this well but im just very, very confused bc its like the book doesn’t even know what direction its trying to take
- I have a belief that a contemporary, by default should be a reasonable length and not fricken 400 pages, its just…if youre gonna do that please make the story INCREDIBLY entertaining
- And oh Lord help me with the romance
- Its kinda cringey but its also kinda over the top
- Like ”The way I feel when I’m with her. Like I just swallowed the sun and it’s shooting out of every pore.”
- And the main character literally said, I am going to sex the rest of this weight right off me.”
- And I was like whoa ho ho buddy, you might wanna take it a little easy there
- Oh and….breakups as plot devices :’) I :) just :) love :) when :) that :) happens :)
- I mean its kinda predictable in that regard
- OH.
- Its just
- The book is so unmemorable, that’s really all I have to say about this
- I strongly believe in 3 hours, im going to forget this book ever happened


Anyways, some people liked it, so just keep that in mind

2 stars??

This was a forced buddy read with fake yam
Profile Image for emma.
1,823 reviews48.6k followers
June 15, 2017
i received an advance copy of this book from the author.

let me begin by saying i wrote my first review of this book nearly 6 months ago. i have been anticipating this book since i finished all the bright places in march of last year. i have been waiting for this copy to show up on my front porch, eagerly, for a month. atbp was one of my favorite reads of last year and the book that got me into reading, the book that fills the first posts of my bookstagram account.

so my expectations were high.

& despite being in a fantasy-only reading slump, i read this in a couple of hours. so that says something.

i enjoyed this book. i liked the characters. the face-blindness and weight facets of the book are so important. as with atbp, this book intends to help, which is so good. i can't say i didn't cringe a few times, or have a few WTH moments, but it was so much more artfully done than that first fateful goodreads synopsis--the one that inspired myriad one-star reviews--would have indicated.

this book was well-written and unique and so good-hearted. i did not fall in love with this book, but i am in love with the idea of niven as an author. i am so happy that there is a kind soul like her, writing great books and making things lovely. i hope, in a couple of years, to be reading her next!

can everyone please take a chill pill in regards to this book? please?

i understand that this is a hot-button topic. i understand that niven's thinness makes this a controversy. i understand that many people were offended by all the bright places (although not nearly as many as the number of people who loved it).

but cheese and crackers, people, for a community that reads so much it's kind of bananas how none of you are considering reading the description as a (potentially misguided) attempt at young adult language!

the "lifted out of her house by a crane"/other uses of fat as an insult: like i said, probably misguided. but definitely a reflection of the girl's self-image (certainly something that will be a theme throughout the work) rather than an attempt to insult overweight people.

"rejoin the human race": oh my gosh, you guys. this is the misreading that really gets me. this is clearly an attempt at imitating quirky-girl diction, NOT A SUGGESTION THAT HER BEING OVERWEIGHT MAKES HER NOT A PERSON. that's ridiculous! that would be so incredibly offensive, and whether you appreciate niven or not you should apply common sense to her wording.

and finally, i wish people would stop rating books before they come out and before they've read them. that's not what this is for. this might be a truly beautiful work, and if you don't want to read it you can keep that to yourself. there is no need for you to rate a book one star because you misread its description.

thank you for reading this. i hope i didn't offend anyone. have lovely days!
Profile Image for Ayesha.
110 reviews339 followers
October 23, 2016
So glad that the fifteen year old me didn't read this then I would've been all like "oh I'm fat but my life won't get better until I find a hot guy lol". I see no point in the whole story.
Profile Image for Ben Alderson.
Author 18 books13.3k followers
July 20, 2016
Really enjoyable read from Jennifer.
It touched your feels completely differently way compared to All the bright places.
I really enjoyed the characters in this book, completely filled with diversity.

This is an important lesson to teens, be tolerable and don't follow the crowds.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews39 followers
October 27, 2016
I wanted to 'feel' emotions like I did in "All The Bright Places". I was sooooo in the mood for a "All in the Bright Places" repeat-type-experience---that the disappointment that I wasn't going to have my desire filled, only added to my already blue mood I've been in this week. It's not the author fault.

I've read a couple of other books about Prosopagnosia (not having the ability to recognize faces of familiar people). One was a non- fiction book. The other was a fiction- mystery-thriller story.

The structure of alternating narration between the two main characters was simply
boring for me.... literally was gonna drive me crazy.

My favorite part was BEFORE the story telling really got started---BEFORE the 18 Hours Earlier.
Jack begins by saying:
"I'm not a shitty person, but I'm about to do a shitty thing. And you will hate me, and some people will hate me, but I'm going to do it anyway to protect you and also myself".

I WAS INTERESTED..... when Jack told us he was not a shitty person on the first page......
but then, soon, I was bored and didn't care very much about this entire story or the characters. I even found the writing irritating
because I got really tired of the characters talking to THEMSELVES ....( on every page - many times on every page). We know that by the type-font change.

I'm the last person who should criticize ANYBODY'S writing... because I can't write worth beans! --- which is why I DONT WRITE BOOKS!!!!! -- but between my moody-blue mood - and this 'nails-on-a-chalk-board' tedious predictable style and structure of writing, I wanted to pull my hair out.

2.5.... barely making it into the three star category!
Profile Image for Danielle.
809 reviews403 followers
April 20, 2021
While I liked the chemistry between these two characters, I had a really hard time with the fat shaming. 😤 The author tried to portray Libby as a person who is fighting against bullying- but she refers to herself as fat many times. It felt like a convoluted message. 🤦🏼‍♀️
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,453 reviews7,562 followers
March 6, 2017
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

3.5 Stars

“Remember this: YOU ARE WANTED. Big, small, short, pretty, plain, friendly, shy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, not even yourself.

Especially not yourself.”

So this is the super offensive book that no one wanted to read due to a reference in the blurb about how the main character was so fat she had to be removed from her house with a crane. Have none of y’all ever seen My 600 Pound Life???? This wasn’t “fat shaming,” it was spot on accurate. You see, Libby (said craned-out MC) weighed 653 pounds at one point and did, in fact, have to pretty much get the windows blown out of her house in order to be saved when she was almost dying. But instead of people being reasonable, this happened . . . . .

And Holding Up The Universe got blacklisted and the blurb had to get changed and a whole bunch of other assholery occurred like the much loved All The Bright Places magically also became super offensive and apparently now is thought to belittle mental health and oh my Christ now I know why people talk about effing snowflakes so much!

Read this if you want, don’t read it if you don’t want. I give zero poops. If you decide to give it a shot, kudos to you because you’ll get to meet some interesting people. Not only Libby, but also Libby’s (actually present, which hardly ever happens in YA books) dad, as well as Jack (and everything you never would have known about the disorder prosopagnosia), while you discover sometimes young adult authors write characters who aren’t all white – shocking, I know, and also little brothers like Dusty who decided to start carrying a purse over the summer and believes “if I want to carry a purse, I’m going to carry it. I’m not going to not carry it just because they don’t like it.” You’ll read teens who actually sound like teens and have their share of dickish moments and you’ll get to experience a relatable first crush rather than instalove and laugh out loud when Libby says things like: “I want to lean in and get a whiff of him and rest my head on his should or maybe make out with his neck” while slow dancing with a boy. Or keep being offended just for the sake of being offended, because that seems legit.

ARC provided by Crown Publishing in exchange for an honest review – which took me eleven thousand years to write because I am a jerkoff.


THIS book looks offensive? I really just don't understand people. Add me to the OHMYGODGIVEITTOMENOW category please. Because I'm fat, I'm fat and I know it (sh'mon!) . . .

Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
October 11, 2016
I'm between 3.5 and 4 stars on this one.

Don't go into reading Jennifer Niven's new novel, Holding Up the Universe , thinking this is going to be identical to the phenomenal All the Bright Places (which made my list of the best books I read last year), in tone or the emotional power of its subject matter. I don't say this to denigrate Niven's new book in any way—I think with this book she set out to tell a different and more personal story, yet one with slightly more universal themes.

"You know how it's easy to believe everything is about you, especially when something goes wrong? Why me? Why do I have the worst luck ever? Why is the universe so mean? Why does everyone hate me? My mom used to say sometimes it's actually about the other person and you just happen to be there. Like sometimes the other person needs to learn a lesson or go through an experience, good or bad, and you're just an accessory in some way, like a supporting actor in whatever their scene happens to be."

Libby Strout has already had a brush with notoriety. Once dubbed "America's Fattest Teen," when she weighed 653 pounds at her heaviest and had to be cut out of her childhood home while the media watched, she's spent the last two years being home schooled while she recovered. Now 302 pounds lighter, she's ready to go back to high school and be someone different, someone with tremendous possibilities, new friends, maybe even someone that a guy could fall in love with.

When Libby meets Jack Masselin for the first time, it's an encounter that winds up with both of them getting detention, having to go to counseling, and participate in community service for their school. Jack has always seemed like someone who has it all, and knows it—he's good-looking, a bit cocky, and tends to swagger through school. But this bravado hides a significant vulnerability: Jack has prosopagnosia, or the inability to recognize faces, even those of his family members or people he's known all his life. Each time he sees someone, he has to try and figure out who they are, and he's not always successful, which leads to more uncomfortable situations than he'd like.

In Jack, Libby sees someone who is hiding their true self, someone who understands what it's like to have secrets and sadness and emotional anguish, while in Libby, Jack sees fearlessness, even when she's being mistreated. But as much as he's drawn to Libby he has to wonder if the persona he needs to maintain in order to protect his secret would ever really give someone like Libby attention. And Libby has to decide whether pursuing everything she wants without worrying about the consequences is actually worthwhile, or if she should just do her best to hide in the background.

Holding Up the Universe is a story about finding courage when you feel you don't have any, and not letting anyone sway you from what you want. It's also a book about finding hope after loss and difficult times, and how to hang on to that hope in the face of adversity. But more than that, this is a book about letting people see who you really are, and admitting when you need help.

There were things I really loved about this book and things that bothered me. I liked some of the characters very much, and loved how Niven revealed their complexities little by little. This certainly was a unique story in many ways, but it didn't feel gimmicky in any way, and there was so much emotion and heart in this story, but it never felt emotionally manipulative.

What bothered me is just how cruel Libby's classmates were (even if I know this fact better than I'd like to admit, even all these years later), how unending that cruelty was, and how she really wasn't willing to tell anyone what was going on. There were a lot of things which remained unsaid in this book, and I found that frustrating. I also admit that I wondered whether someone like Jack would actually find himself falling for a girl who still weighed 350 pounds, and that distracted me a little bit.

I issued my warning at the start of my review because I'll admit I went in hoping for another All the Bright Places , so some of my disappointment was my own unrealistic expectations. But once I gave it a fair chance, I really enjoyed Holding Up the Universe . It's a book that deserves to be read on its own merit, and although it didn't touch my heart as much as Niven's last book, it still proved Niven's tremendous talent.

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
188 reviews160 followers
Want to read
January 28, 2016
just gonna say my opinion, how is the author being offensive towards overweight people? we ALL know overweight people can often be picked on for their size, and if anything the author could just be showing how highschoolers can be horrible and judgemental, and the protagonist is beat down by it, but gets back up and goes back to face old tormentors. which i think is a great way to tell people who deal with bullying that IT CAN GET BETTER, it may take time, but it can happen if you get the right help and are supported. (as for the human race thing, it was never implied that she wasn't human, just that she was ready to go back to school. "human race aka highschool students.") the whole finding someone to make you feel less alone thing could be a problem with this book. but if these 2 students are simply supporting each other, awesome! hopefully jennifer writes their relationship that way and doesn't write it as if all you need is a boyfriend or girlfriend to be happy. if you're offended by the synopsis, that's cool, i can see why since body image is a touchy subject. just try to understand what i'm saying. of course i could be wrong and this book could end up being a fucking mess that is super offensive, but this is just my thoughts on the synopsis.

**also there is NOTHING wrong with being "fat" too often it is used in a derogatory way. and i think Jennifer is showing that by mentioning that this girl was bullied because of her body. however the whole crane thing is quite unnecessary (even though it has happened in real life before, and it's how the students see her)

*** look at my replies to comments for more elaboration

Profile Image for Rachel  L.
1,830 reviews2,187 followers
January 9, 2017
4 stars!

“Dear friend, You are not a freak. You are wanted. You are necessary. You are the only you there is. Don’t be afraid to leave the castle. It’s a great big world out there. Love, a fellow reader”

This book shocked me with how much I enjoyed it! Holding Up the Universe is about Libby and Jack. A couple years back Libby had gained so much weight that she needed to be rescued from her house to be saved. Jack has a secret, he cannot recognize faces, not even his own.

The two become connected after Jack does something he regrets, and a friendship begins. Through friendship becomes an attraction, but both have personal barriers they need to get past.

“We're all weird and damaged in our own way. You're not the only one.”

I really enjoyed this book, way more than I thought I would. I am not a fan of All the Bright Places, it was one of those books where everyone loved it except me. But I was intrigued by this book and I liked Niven's writing style so I wanted to give it a shot. I myself am overweight, and while I am nowhere near Libby's size I could easily relate to a lot of what she was going through, even though I am an adult. High school is hard enough without adding in the fat shaming factor and I really admired her strength and tenacity when dealing with the hateful comments of others.

Jack's story was very interesting, I knew little to nothing about face blindness before reading this book. I think Niven did a great job of describing what day to day life would be like living with this condition. Jack himself was one thing I didn't love about this book. He had a lot of growth by the end, but ultimately I still feel Libby deserves a better guy than him.

Beautifully written, Niven has sold me on anything else YA she writes in the future. I always love when an author has a book I didn't connect with has the ability to write something different, it shows variety in her writing style.

“It's my experience that the people who are most afraid are the ones who hide behind mean and threatening words.”

Profile Image for Rose.
1,872 reviews1,055 followers
October 8, 2016
Initial reaction reading this book: I don't know if I'm angry at this book as much as I am just completely left exhausted and drained by this book, and not even in a fulfilling way. (I mean, I've been left completely gutted by Courtney Summers and Lauren Oliver's narratives before, but in ways that made me feel like I identified with the weight of the character's struggles and situations, and to me, the characters they crafted were dimensional, well-thought out, and kept me reading to see what would become of the characters.

I think the problem I have with Niven's narrative here (and I had this same problem with "All the Bright Places") is that her characters are too singular in dimension to me, and the problems expounded upon are things that not only lack a certain connectivity despite being well researched and getting some things right in terms of the emotional roughness, but it doesn't feel REAL. It doesn't feel GENUINE. It feels like the characters are a means to an end for the purposes of creating a relationship and isolating their differences so that they are SOLELY DEFINED by those differences (despite claims to the otherwise). And the horrible sluggish pacing in this book just amplified that even more because it felt like certain points were rehashed and told instead of shown.

Full review:

I'll try to keep my reaction short and sweet for this book, but in sum: I didn't care for it for a number of reasons. I was willing to pick this book up despite my experiences with "All The Bright Places" (which I didn't care for either, but I did applaud some aspects of the novel in the aftermath of the overarching read).

Having picked up "Holding Up the Universe" revealed some of the same issues that bothered me in "All The Bright Places", but there were other issues that surprised me that were unique to this book. Again, I applaud the fact that Jennifer Niven chose to write about two teens with unique and horrifying experiences based on the prejudices of people who don't understand them and the fear associated with being continuously stigmatized and misunderstood (at least taking the intentional bare bones of this story for what they are). I applaud that she shows how the two teens with these unique experiences come together in a relationship of some form (again: bare bones intention of the narrative).

Problem is that the execution of this narrative for those intentions was not done well.

Problem #1: Poor pacing. I think this was the biggest achilles heel of the overarching work and I think that ruined it for me on one level. Reading the narrative felt like a rambled slog at times (though I don't fault the audiobook narrators who read this book - they were good). There's a good reason why a good rule of thumb for writing is SHOW don't TELL. This book told too many experiences of the characters and tried to explain them to the point where segments of the narrative felt repeated more for theme than they should've been. There were some moments where the narrative got it right as per Libby's struggles with public perception, bullying, and rationalization to her weight loss, but it felt too dictated to me. Also with respect to Jack's condition, he's struggling to make sense of it and come to terms with it, but I also felt like there were sections of the narrative that weren't paced well and repetitious to his experiences to where it kept throwing me out of the narrative despite his emotional upheavals and conflicts.

Problem #2: Characters being used as a means to an end. Let's just admit something off the bat: THIS IS A ROMANCE. And there's nothing wrong with that, I knew that coming in and was fine with that. But when you craft a narrative where the sole purpose of the overarching story is to bring two characters who are labeled by the world as "freaks" (and this was done in "All the Bright Places" to the point where I was like "Seriously?") to fall in love with each other and it's so blatantly obvious even if the characters have next to no chemistry and are "instaplaced" with each other - there's your problem right there. It's not only emotionally manipulative, it's really being reductive in terms of the personal pains and struggles that they're going through. It also reduces them to a "condition" rather than being more dimensional human beings. I hated that feeling in the narrative. I sincerely felt unconvinced of the relationship between Libby and Jack, even long after I finished the last page of the book. My mind kept tuning out because the narrative kept trying to "explain" this chemistry. I didn't like that at all.

Problem #3: Reducing characters solely to a "condition" or "status": This ties in with the last point. You know, I applaud anyone who will tackle what it's like to live as something that isn't fitting the majority or status quo or able body norm and presents unique challenges for the people whose stories are being told in a narrative, but you have to be careful that you don't shape the character's experiences solely by those terms. People (even those in stories) are more dimensional and complex than that. Yes, those experiences are essential to the person's life and identity, but they are not the sole definition points you should be using to shape that identity. Sure, exploring the challenges of attitudes that may be put to the person with that condition, and also exploring the fears, doubts, that person may have with that experience is essential and necessary, but you have to be careful about exploring it, because it can easily become a point where you become reductive in detailing that person's experience(s).

It would be like someone telling me "Oh, you suffered from epilepsy/seizures for the first eight years of your life, that makes you a freak, so the only person who could ever love or understand you is someone who is just as socially ostracized as you are, and there's no one you can talk about it to, and it's going to keep you messing up in life and you're just going to be miserable until you find love in someone else, because apparently your self-love doesn't exist unless you're with that person ." (To which I would say a firm screw that noise. Also: true story.)

*sighs* I feel like Niven sends mixed messages (again) in the narrative, this time about body image and a rare brain disorder, as opposed to her previous narrative with bipolar disorder and the survivor's guilt of another character. And while the narrative does explore backgrounds as to how they both came to be, it still feels like a means to an end which lends me to say it doesn't feel REAL or GENUINE.

If someone asked me whether this book was a good example of showing body positivism I would say a firm goodness no. Yes, it does show the prejudice and ostracism and isolation and self-loathing/fear the characters feel, but I don't feel like the narrative does a good job with actually DEALING with the complexity of those experiences and why they are, where they come from without dictation. Only towards the end of the narrative do the characters have something of a coming to terms and it's a quick resolution that feels unfulfilling and lacking the weight of the events that led up to that ending.

So...in sum, not my cuppa. And it saddens me to say that, yet again, I've had this experience with Niven's work. Maybe I'll have better luck in another work, I guess, but I'm not so confident, unfortunately.

Overall score: 2/5 stars.

Edit: 2/5/2016 I'm glad the synopsis (Finally!) changed, though some issues still remain to be seen with how the story chooses to handle these subjects. We'll see.

Initial reflection:

Definitely not here for the horrible, weight shaming premise noted for this book on GR (I'm speaking as a woman who's struggled with weight issues most of my life, but yet I've worked with overweight kids/teens in the past in my educational field of sports medicine.)

That said, I'm probably going to end up reading this book. And I won't be too happy if it completely botches the topic.

If people are interested in reading about overweight teens as protagonists, here are a few for reference, though some of them I haven't read yet:

Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler The DUFF Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger Dumplin' (Dumplin', #1) by Julie Murphy Fat Angie by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell Name Me Nobody by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Edit: To give some context on how offensive this book blurb is:

I've experienced bullying over my weight when I was a kid and I've also heard/read stories from kids/teens/adults who've experienced the same in my field of expertise. The fact that the blurb points out that she had to be lifted out of the house via a "crane" isn't amusing or funny, it's horrifying, even if it's intended to be a snarky remark. And the fact that she's supposedly "[rejoining] the human race" is shaming the girl for her weight because it's implying that she's lazy or a sloth or to blame somehow for her size - it diminishes her worth as a person. It plays into the bullying and belittling dialogues about people who are overweight rather than allowing people to love themselves for who they are, no matter their weight.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
437 reviews708 followers
November 1, 2016
***Actual Rating: 3.5/5 Jabby Stars***

”I want you to know I’m rooting for you.”

It’s interesting that how little time(1~2 days) I spent devouring 84% of the book but I had a hard time(3 days) swallowing the last 16%. Although it’s not entirely a negative sign, it’s indeed something worth discussing about for me.

Libby Strout is a girl who never stopped eating for 3 years after her mother died accidentally when she was 10 and she got the reputation of “America’s Fattest Teen” before she was cut out from her house because she was too big to move on her own. Jack Masselin is a boy who has this kind of rare disease called “prosopagnosia,” meaning he can’t recognize faces once they aren’t in front of him and the only way he can be sure about that particular person is by their unique identifiers such as hairstyle, height, body figure, way of walking, or special clothing.

Even though Libby has lost two-thirds of her weight, she’s still the one occupying the largest space in a high school classroom. Thus, as stereotypical as those students could be, they noticed her in her first day of school after she locked herself up in the bedroom, lying on the bed, doing nothing but reading and eating for years.
”Here’s the worst thing of it,” I say. “You know how far I’ve come and I know how far I’ve come, but everyone else just sees me for how large I am or where I was years ago, not who I am now.”

Her classmates, including Jack and his idiot friends, begin to make fun of her, speak ill of her, spread rumors of her and bully her. But that’s also how Libby meets Jack. In a stupid prank called “Fat Girl Rodeo,” Jack is challenged to grab their so-called “grand prize,” aka Libby and hold on to her like a life string. To show he’s not a coward, he accepts the challenge reluctantly and is rewarded by a punch in the mouth from her.

The only thing I find heartwarming is the fact that Jack has rooted for her since the day she was cut out from her bedroom and carried by a crane. He didn’t humiliate her as others did and he truly saw her as a person, a nice and funny and trust-worthy person. Even after all those years, he still doesn’t waver.
But then I see her. Libby Strout. She’s lowered from the ceiling by a crane, larger than life, larger than anyone, and she’s the only one with a face.

By the way, that’s why I chose ”I want you to know I’m rooting for you.” to be my most favorite slogan for the book!
Therefore, their romance here is probably the purest type I’ve ever seen and I honestly like it. I can see that whenever they talk, they’re living in their private bubble and nobody in the world can interrupt their conversation nor can anyone deprive them of their borrowed freedom.
”But after I danced you to the door, I’d want to kiss you.”
“You would?”
“I would.”
And now my heart is nowhere on earth to be found. I can see it as it bypasses the moon and the stars and goes blasting into another galaxy.
“Well then, I would let you kiss me.”
No. Definitely.
By the time we hang up two hours later, it’s 1:46 a.m. I lie there for the rest of the night waiting for my heart to return to my chest.

To my disappointment, I actually don’t find the main point of the story (and it’s also how ”You are wanted.” becomes the most notable quote)—when Libby wears her purple bikini and hands out sheets of flier in public that says “YOU ARE WANTED” along with her personal story—memorable or meaningful. I mean, she’s proving to everyone that she isn’t that girl who scarfed all the junk food down her throat nonstop and gave up on herself but instead, she’s already stepped out of her comfort zone and decided to blend into the rest of them. However, I can’t connect to her at all by the means she uses so the whole scene looks a bit out of place for me.

Aside from Libby, there’s also something about Jack that’s been bugging me since I first started reading the book. The fact that Jack was the only person who knows what happened to his brain and that he can’t tell who is who when too many faces are flashing before his eyes until he told Libby doesn’t make much sense to me. Not that I’m always trying to look for evidence or something, it’s just that I’ll be more appreciative if the authors write a story based on something specific and reliable. What I can’t understand is how come Jack’s parents or brothers didn’t know something’s wrong with his behavior? What I’m saying is that it’s not easy to go unnoticed when you suffer from some sort of neurological disorder for more than 10 years!

Mercifully, Jennifer ended the story in a really positive and uplifting way. As usual, I feel powerful and energetic after finishing the book because she made Jack and Libby a happy couple and wrapped all those matters up lovely. Besides, there’s a part I absolutely love and it’s when Libby leaves her favorite book, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, on a bench in the park for someone—anyone—to pick it up. I guess it’s actually from one of Jennifer’s interviews videos on YouTube, where she “dropped” some of her favorite books randomly on the streets, near the telephone booth, or beside a statue in London. If you’re interested, you could watch it here!

Again, it’s amazing to finish another inspirational book from Jennifer Niven. Despite the fact that I don't love it (but I LIKE it), I’ll still recommend it to everyone. After all, there’s definitely something worth learning and hearing from the protagonists. To those who haven’t read any of Jennifer’s books, I highly suggest you start with All the Bright Places because that one is by far the best book I’ve read in my life.
Profile Image for Norma.
551 reviews12.3k followers
March 29, 2017
3.5 stars / Audiobook / Enjoyable Narrators

I think I need to refrain from reading / listening to YA novels for a little while so with that being said I am not going to review this one.
Profile Image for  ••Camila Roy••.
161 reviews49 followers
May 10, 2020
I’ve decided to review my least favorite book ever (at least for the moment) because I like to torture myself apparently.
I´m going to keep this spoiler free since I don´t remember much. I have blocked it from my mind and it is just better that way.

Before we start, there’s one thing you need to know about me. It takes A LOT for me to dislike a book. I’ve enjoyed plenty of trashy books. I’m talking about no structure, nonexistent plot, plain characters, messy storylines, those commonly known as guilty pleasure reads. I'm not hard to please and I hate giving low ratings.

Hold that thought...now we can start. Having read All The Bright Places, I had high expectations for this. That was my first mistake. Hearing the main character struggled with self-esteem and body issues made me think I was going to relate to her. That was my second mistake.

I can´t really say at what point this went from being ‘’average’’ to being something I hated. I know hate is a strong word, but it’s what I feel. Libby is the most annoying character I have ever read about. Call her strong, call her brave, or any of the things she was set out to be, but I don’t see it and I never will. For me she was whiny, annoying, self-centered and just straight-up unlikeable. The other main character (I don´t even remember his name) has a condition that should be interesting to read about. But nope, it´s boring and it goes nowhere. Why dig deeper on something interesting and original when you can fill pages with unnecessary romantic angst, am I right?

Nothing happens other than the two teenagers falling in love and even that part felt forced to me. Libby makes a few statements blah blah blah. And it goes on for like 300 pages. 300+ pages of unnecessary drama and clichés. I couldn´t wait for this book to end. I never skimmed so I read every single word. Maybe I should’ve just DNF-ed it. That’s 8 hours of my life I´ll never get back.

In conclussion, this sucked and every time I see this cover I mentally groan and roll my eyes.
If you want to read this, go ahead. This is just my honest opinion.
Profile Image for Brian Yahn.
310 reviews594 followers
October 25, 2016
From the description, it sounded like All the Bright Places meets Bone Gap -- which sign me the fuck up!

But in practice, I couldn't get past the first 10%. It seemed like Jennifer Niven spent the whole time trying to convince me these characters were interesting, rather than them actually being interesting. It wasn't that the story was bad, it's just that--after reading All the Bright Places--I have such high regard of Jennifer Niven that I didn't want this to ruin it.

Think I'll try Velva Jean Learns to Drive instead.
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