Jack and Libby. Libby and Jack. Two teenagers with issues. Jack has Prosopagnosia and can’t recognize faces, even of those who are close to him…even his girlfriend, which has caused him problems in the past. He’s identified other means of, sort of, recognizing people, but it’s certainly not fool proof. Libby was once dubbed America’s Fattest Teen and had to be lifted out of her house by means of a crane. Currently half her former size, she’s still a big girl, subject to the taunts of her high school peers.
Libby, having been the brunt of a cruel joke perpetrated by Jack, punched him, so they are both destined to serve time in the Conversation Circle after school, where they and several other teens discuss their behavior, among other things. It is there that they get to know each other and find out what makes each other tick.
Libby is still mourning the sudden death of her mother five years earlier, an impetus to her spiraling weight. Jack knows about his father’s affair and is trying to hide both this and his Prosopagnosia from the rest of the family. Can two people with issues come together and understand each other?
Jennifer Niven came on the scene in early 2015 with the critically acclaimed All the Bright Places in which she tackles suicide and bipolar disorder. In Holding Up the Universe, she tackles another subject affecting not only teens. Living in an era in which match-stick thin is a sign of beauty, being a larger size can have a dramatic impact on a person’s self image. Libby, however, knows who she is after having lived through a period during which she never left her home. She’s proud of who she is and wants to the world to know she is loved and wanted and just a great person. She, in turn, tries to instill that confidence in others.
While I enjoyed reading Holding Up the Universe, I found Libby to be too rah-rah. Is that possible given her past? Yet maybe that’s what’s necessary to let the world know that self worth isn’t inversely proportional to weight. On the other side, I don’t know how Jack made it through life without anyone knowing of his disability. It seems incredible. In looking back, I also had an issue with characters in All the Bright Places.
Niven has put together an interesting supporting cast, most of whom ring true. All in all, Hold Up the Universe was an enjoyable read.