Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven is an engaging contemporary Young Adult novel most suited to high school readers. It addresses some of the concerns and problems of overweight teens.
My favorite of the two Jennifer Niven books I’ve read
I’d like to see more contemporary realism like Holding Up the Universe that encourages teens to draw upon their personal power and offers them hope of happiness without being sugary-sweet. All the Bright Places by Niven did not live up to my expectations after the hype it received. Or maybe I’m growing tired of novels in which two teens fall in love and then one of them dies. Holding Up the Universe left me with a good feeling.
- This story places the reader inside the head of a girl who has been overweight since the death of her mother, so obese that she could not attend school for years. I was very moved by the main female character’s situation. The reader learns about emotional factors involved in extreme overeating and the importance of extending a hand of friendship and understanding to the overweight.
- Told in alternating points of view, the story also provides a look into the mind of a boy who suffers from prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness. He cannot recognize faces, even those of family members, and must memorize clues about their appearance such as hairstyle, skin and hair colors, body size, and the way they walk.
- Both the main characters, Libby and Jack, grow a lot in this story. Unmatched in looks and popularity, they become friends because of internal similarities and external circumstances.
- Libby has thoughts of engaging in casual sex.
- Profanity is abundant in this secular novel compared to Christian YA novels.
- A few story details may seem unbelievable.
Holding Up the Universe has wonderful pacing, so its 391 pages flew by. I recommend this novel to both boys and girls mature enough to handle profanity and references to sex without being influenced by them. Teens who are overweight or suffer from social anxiety can benefit from reading this novel, as can teens who think it’s funny to make fun of the overweight.