Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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It took me a while to write this review because this book… This book changed my life. You know that feeling when you meet a protagonist who just gets it? And for the first time in your life you feel less alone than you ever have because oh my gosh this character understands what I’ve been through and how I feel and where I am in life and then suddenly the entire weight of the world just feels lighter on your shoulders?

THAT is how Holding Up the Universe makes me feel.

Libby Strout is my new fictional best friend. Like, I LOVE HER. I want to be her best friend forever and ever and ever. You know Willowdean Dixon, the hilarious, sassy, self-assured protagonist from Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’? Well, Libby Strout is Willowdean Dixon turned up to ELEVEN – more sass, more down-to-earth wisdom, and more perspective. I cannot say this enough: I want this girl to move next door to me so that we can hang out constantly.

The Young Adult Fiction world needs more overweight protagonists. I wish, desperately, that I had had someone like Libby to look up to when I was in my teens and struggling everyday with my weight. Even now, having lost 100+ pounds in the past few years, I still self-identify as a fat girl, and Libby… Libby just voiced so much of how I’ve felt and thought during my weight-loss journey. It is hard to feel different, but even harder to see injustice and do nothing about it. But Libby stands up for others, and she also stands up for herself. She defends her right to be who she is and not have to apologize for it. She tells it like it is, and she is flipping fantastic. I want all of my daughters one day to learn from her story.

And Jack Masselin… Oh Jack. First of all, I did not know anything about prosopagnosia (face-blindness) until I was introduced to Jack. And he does a really great job of not only explaining it, but also navigating the disorder in a very tasteful way. He doesn’t act like a “victim” because of it. In fact, one of the [many] things I love about this book is that neither of the protagonists play the victim card. They both have EVERY SINGLE REASON to feel cheated by life – because let’s be honest for a minute here – sometimes life is hard and it sucks big time. Jack can’t remember any faces, not even his friends and family (or himself for that matter), and Libby was once the “fattest teen in America” and had to be cut out of her house in front of the entire world. But Libby and Jack are doing what we all have to do – they’re living their lives anyway, and they’re finding ways to cope with the bad and find the good in the day-to-day. Isn’t that the example we want teens (and adults) to be reading about and learning from? .

I think, at the end of the day, that’s one of the beautiful and magical things about Holding Up the Universe. These aren’t perfect characters. They’re deeply flawed, they’re hurting, and they’re confused and struggling to get by. BUT THEY KEEP ON MOVING FORWARD. THEY HELP EACH OTHER. THEY FIND REASONS TO KEEP GOING.

I loved Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, but Finch and Violet have now taken a backseat in my heart for Jack and Libby. They are my new Jennifer Niven OTP. Which is saying something, because I loved Finch and Violet. LOVED. Jennifer is the QUEEN of ripping my heart out and making me feel grateful for it. I must’ve sobbed for like four hours after I finished All the Bright Places. And Holding Up the Universe also made me cry, but it was in a totally different way. This book had me crying and still managing to laugh through my tears. It connected with me and refused to let me go – I didn’t put this book down a single time until I was finished, and then I wanted to pick it right back up again for a second read. That’s how beautiful this book is.

I’ve seen some of the Goodreads backlash about the book blurb for this book, but let me just set the record straight. THIS BOOK IS A MASTERPIECE. Holding Up the Universe is the kind of book that stays with you long after you turn the final page. It’s a book that makes the world a better place just by existing. It’s a book that, in short, encapsulates the human experience – complete with heartache, complete with pain, complete with trials – and spins it into something beautiful, something that is worth fighting for. This book is about the amazing thing that sets humans apart – our ability to hope and love and never ever give up. Where All the Bright Places destroyed me (in the best possible way), Holding Up the Universe healed me (also in the best possible way). They are perfect compliments.

This book is not offensive or over-characterized or a “romanticized” idea of mental illness.

Jennifer Niven’s message in this book is simple: “YOU ARE WANTED.”

What a profound thing to hear, at any age and any time of life.

“You are wanted.”

Everyone should read this book. Pre-order it. Now. I promise, you will not regret it. This is one contemporary that you’ll be pushing into your friends’ hands for the rest of your life. I know I will.

Rating: 5+/5 stars 

TALK TO ME: What’s your current favorite Contemporary YA? Did you read and love All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven? Let me know in the comments!

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