Following up the masterful All the Bright Places is no mean feat, but Jennifer Niven succeeds nicely with this second YA drama about teenagers that just don’t quite fit in and are trying to find their footing in the world. It is a lighter affair than Bright Places, although the characters are no less threatened by their circumstances.
Libby Strout, once house-bound, dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen”, is now determined to enjoy her future of freedom. Unfortunately, that also means facing High School, the stares, and the whispers. Everyone seems to think they know her – but few seem willing to look beyond her weight and see who she really is: the girl shattered by grief, still picking up the pieces of her life since her mother died; the girl who loves to dance, whose spirit was free even when her body was trapped.
Jack Masselin has swagger, a beautiful girlfriend, a bevy of friends and is considered “popular” amongst his peers. But he has a deeper secret hidden beneath the mask he wears: ever since he fell from the roof at the age of six, Jack has not been able to recognise people by their faces. Even his brothers become strangers.
A cruel game, bordering on bullying, brings them together, and sharing their secrets draws them closer still. Libby, with her outspoken, protective nature and don’t-mess-with-me personality really shines as a character, a powerful role model to any teenager out there who is feeling insecure or uncertain. Even as an adult, her story had resonance with my own memories of High School.
Holding Up the Universe is an engaging tale, with strong characters and a plot both inspiring and true. I learned a lot about Prosopagnosia too! Recommended to fans of John Green, Rainbow Rowell and Sarah Dessen. High School drama at its most satisfying.
Reviewed by Angela Oliver
Holding Up the Universe
by Jennifer Niven
Published by Penguin Books