Books Reviews Young Adult Fiction

Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

February 1, 2018

I'd popped this on my TBR for the Biannual Bibliothon but sadly didn't manage to get to it within the read-a-thon. I still wanted to read it after though and my god I loved it.

When it was first announced this book got a lot of criticism for the offensive blurb. I never saw that so I can't comment but since then I've still seen some incredibly scathing reviews. But let's bare in mind that everyone has different tastes in books and interprets things differently. I for one loved this book. I do not, however, suffer with Prosopagnosia (the inability to recognise and remember faces) and though I am not the slimmest of people I have never had problems with weight to the extent that Libby Strout does in the book. Growing up though, I think everyone is a little dissatisfied with what they see in the mirror. Now, at twenty-one, I still look and think stomach could be more toned, arms are fat, I don't like my thighs and more things like that. I can relate to certain aspects of this book but others I have no experience with, so if I have missed something about the representation or its inaccuracy please let me know.

Holding Up The Universe has characters with cognitive disorders and weight problems but I feel that the book is more so about being unapologetically you. Libby was known as America's Fattest Teen after she had to be cut from her house, now slimmer but still overweight by the publics view she has returned to school and is determined to make the best of it. She doesn't want her defining feature to be her weight but of course when everyone comments on it you're going to think about it a lot. That's just human nature. However, she is such a strong and powerful character. She doesn't just put up with the comments, she stands up for herself and throws a punch or two when needed. Which is something I think everyone needs to hear and do. She's also very caring, even to those that hurt her. I broke down when I read parts of this novel simply because I needed to be told certain things and everyone should hear this.

"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"

I was sobbing into my blanket at 2 in the morning trying to be quite and sounding like a demented squeaky toy...

Then there's Jack who has Prosopagnosia which is essentially the inability to recognise faces. You and me, we think of a person and we can conjure a mental image of that person. I say Chris Hemsworth and you have the image of a blonde bearded Norse God. Jack, he can't do that. But he has skated by without having to tell anyone about his face-blindness. He uses other factors to recognise people and sometimes doesn't quite get it right. Which is a rather large problem when you're one of the popular kids and can't tell who is saying hi to you... 

Jack and Libby are forced together after Libby punches Jack for partaking in Fat Girl Rodeo. Something he did because he didn't want his friends to do that to Libby instead. Still quite a crap reason really but, this forms a very strange and tenuous relationship that grows into such a beautiful slow burn romance. Which are my favourite kinds. Amongst the main characters deciding who they want to be and accepting that the novel also deals with other things. It talks about grief, marital problems and a young boy who wants to carry a purse (handbag for us Brits). That was one of my favourite parts of the novel. That Jack's brother wanted to carry a purse and had no issues with it and neither did Jack, in fact he then wanted to wear one in solidarity with his brother. I really liked that.

Overall, I found this a beautiful, poignant and relatable novel. I will always read anything Jennifer Niven puts out. All the Bright Places is one of my favourite books.

You are wanted.


Name: Holding Up The Universe 

Author(s): Jennifer Niven

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 388

ISBN: 978-1-785-17315-8

Rating: 5/5

Have you read Holding Up The Universe? 

What did you think?

Thank-you for reading,

Katie x 

  • Reply
    Camilla @Reader in the Attic
    February 1, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    I recently finished this one! And I loved it. While me and Jack had an up and down relationship, I really felt Libby. I don’t have the same type of fat as her, but my body is still fatty and in the past people never let me forget that. And a lot of how she reacted and felt… that was really personal. One scene in particular made me feel really near her.
    Neither I’ve ever read the first blurb. Personally I didn’t notice anything ssuper problematic but I’m not a pro, so probably I missed something. Sure I wish I’d few of Libby’s attitude in the past.

    • Reply
      Katie - A Novel Idea
      February 3, 2018 at 5:31 pm

      I agree with you about Jack. There were so many times I wanted to hit him with the book but for the most part I understood what drove him to some of his douchery. I adore Libby. I want to try and adopt her mentality, and twirling seems very fun.

      Katie x

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