Holding Up the Universe

March 20, 2017

Author: Jennifer Niven.


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, 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. (Published summary)

My Thoughts:

It’s always more interesting to learn about disorders or problems through books, and I do enjoy a good story that introduces me to something like prosopagnosia. The actual story was okay, for a YA book. Girl meets Boy, thinks he’s an idiot. Boy stands up for Girl, they learn each other’s secrets, Girl realizes he’s not an idiot and they hook up. I’m a bit read out on YA, which all begins to taste the same after a while, but Holding Up the Universe managed to stand out a bit with its introduction to prosopagnosia, the way Jack struggles to keep it from defining him – really, the way both Libby and Jack try not to define themselves by their problems.

Content Review:

Sexual Content: “Did you know that Pauline Potter, the World’s Heaviest Woman, lost ninety-eight pounds having marathon sex?” “No sex for you until you’re thirty.” Somewhat overweight girl continues to make joking plans, in her head, about “sexing the rest of this weight right off me”. Kissing – guy apologizes to girl for previously kissing the wrong girl (it was actually a legitimate accident). Character finds out that his father is cheating on his mother with a teacher. Wonders, in somewhat crude thoughts, if his father has ever been with the teacher at school. Another boy tries to repeat the incident with a different girl (she hauls off and punches him). Some slow dancing. Girl stands in the school hallway wearing a purple bikini (and handing out papers) to speak out against bullying and self-hate. Girl says she’s ready to have sex with her boyfriend, takes off her shirt, but he walks out on her. (various personal problems going on).

Language: 48 scatological terms, 20 F-words, 14 d***, 8 derogatory terms, 8 hell, 3 a**h***

Violence: One character punches another. Teen boy grabs a girl (full-body hug) and refuses to let go for fifteen seconds (harassment. He was joking around with his friends about a ‘game’, ‘Fat Girl Rodeo’.) Multiple instances of verbal harassment. Girl empties her soda on a boy’s head. Multiple kids are throwing trash at one boy, until another boy breaks it up – he punches several of them and is eventually knocked down. Two boys try to corner another boy in the bathroom and beat him up, but he makes a break for it at the last second. Character remembers falling off a roof as a little boy and hitting his head. Character sent to bring home his little brother tries to drag off the wrong kid (due to facial-recognition disorder). Several kids gang up to beat up one boy.

Other problems: Highschool kids get drunk at a party.


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