Book Review: Holding Up the Universe, by Jennifer Niven

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_holding_up_the_universeFollowing 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
ISBN 9780141357058

Book Review: The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson

cv_the_sky_is_everywhereAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

The sky is everywhere, is a tale of death, mourning, love and following one’s own heart. It is lyrically told, interspersed throughout with heart-wrenching pieces of poetry.

The protagonist,17-year old Lennie, lives with music in her veins. For most of her life it has been just her and her sister, Bailey, living with their larger-than-life (at least in personality) grandmother and irrepressible uncle, Big. Then one day, suddenly, tragically, Bailey dies. It is impossible for her sister to grasp – too long has she been her sister’s shadow, her companion pony. Her body reacts in strange ways, craving desire and belonging. This leads to some uncomfortable moments with Bailey’s bereaved boyfriend, Toby. The two are drawn together by a connection that they feel no-one else can quite comprehend.

Enter into the picture, the charismatic new boy, Joe Fontaine. Joe embraces life with an enthusiastic glee and embraces love with the same uninhibited enthusiasm. But a heart so big is easy to break, and as Lennie and he are drawn closer together, misunderstandings and misguided actions strive to drive them apart.

The poems are fragments of Lennie’s soul, poignant and emotional. She sketches them on music paper, on discarded coffee cups, in the margins of her favourite books. She sets them free. And they are the final touch that turns this tale from a simple teen story of falling in love into something much deeper and more intense – an exploration of falling apart and then beginning anew.

This is a book of family, of friendship, of making the wrong choice and making the right choice. A book of losing oneself, then finding oneself.

Of falling in love. Of loss and forgiveness.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Sky is Everywhere
by Jandy Nelson
Published by Walker Books (re-issue)

For fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.