Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Full disclosure:  I did not love “All The Bright Places” which I read late last year.  As a licensed therapist, I took issue with the portrayal of very serious topics such as suicide and how they are shown in the book.  I really wanted to like it and I was actually pretty into sections of it.  It’s a well written book but the whole manic pixie dream boy/trying to fix someone with love trope isn’t my thing so I was left with a pretty bad taste in my mouth about that one.

Moving on, I thought I would give Jennifer Niven a second chance because ATBP was well written and maybe it would be a one off for me.

It wasn’t.

Holding Up the Universe is about a boy named Jack who suffers from prosopagnosia (meaning facial blindness) and a girl named Libby who was “America’s Fattest Teen.”  Each is hiding various aspects of themselves and are thrown together after Jack wrangles Libby in a game called “Fat Girl Rodeo” in an attempt to prevent someone else from bullying her.  Insert eye roll here.

The thing for me was that neither character was particularly likeable for me.  Jack was extremely wrapped up in his image and maintaining his image so people wouldn’t get that he is face blind.  Libby was so used to being isolated after being confined to her home that she essentially pushes everyone away that tries to get near her.  The idea is that both have so much in common because they are trying to find their true selves but I didn’t get that either.  Jack was like Peter Pan to me, never wanting to grow up and he asserts himself in all kind of destructive ways.  When he finds out his father is having an affair with his teacher, he addresses it in several ways, none of which involve him actually speaking to anyone directly about it.  I liked how Libby addressed the various tropes in which she did not want to be pigeon holed such as the “Sassy Fat Friend” and she was definitely more self assured than Jack and comfortable with who she is.

I also get that I am a card carrying grown up which means that I do have a different perspective on things.  Niven frequently portrays adults in her book as stupid, wrapped up in their own problems, and completely missing signs of danger or concern from their children.  There was one adult character in this book who seemed to “get it” but we see her twice (Libby meets her on the park bench) and she has little impact on the storyline.  I’m not saying all adults are super smart and get their kids but all of them are certainly not so ignorant and selfish as to basically miss warning signs of issue at every single turn.

So with that I would say I am officially retiring myself from reading more of Niven’s books.  I gave it a shot but now I’ll have to call it.



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