Holding Up the Universe, by Jennifer Niven

Jack Masselin is the most popular guy at Martin Van Buren High. He has the prettiest girlfriend, the coolest afro, and everyone wants to be him. But Jack also has a secret. He is suffering from prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness. He is unable to recognise anyone in his life, be they friend, foe, or even family.

Libby Strout is definitely not the coolest kid at school. It’s not that she is fat, but that she used to be even fatter. So much so, that she had been confined to her bed for much of her days, and eventually had to be lifted out by a crane. But Libby is trying to move past that, past her grief and depression over her mother’s death. She has been given a new chance at life, and she is not about to throw it away. She is eager for all the experiences it can offer her, and she is unapologetic in her enthusiasm for it. She hides nothing.

Jack, on the other hand, believes his life hinges on his ability to keep up a pretense. Neither his family nor friends know about his condition and he plans on keeping it that way. However, as Jack’s life keeps on colliding with Libby’s it looks like all his carefully laid plans are going to fall apart.

For me, Libby was the best thing about this story. She has lost her mother at a very young, suffered through depression, and is currently living with anxiety. She realises her self-destructive ways, and takes steps to change her outlook on life. Despite her fears, she is a deeply brave individual with a resilient spirit. Niven doesn’t write her as someone who is completely unstoppable. Libby certainly has her fears: she is anxious about returning to school and obsesses about what her classmate will say about her past. Underneath that, however, is a resilience which carries her forward. It certainly falters from time to time but she never loses sight of her own value as an individual.

Jack was also easy to relate to, despite the “arrogant jerk” facade he tries to maintain. He’s just a kid trying to do the best with the cards he’s been dealt. He has almost lost his father to cancer, but with the blessing of his father’s recuperation, comes the cursed knowledge that his father is having an affair. Jack tries to keep everyone at a distance in school, but sometimes the steps he takes to navigate his face-blindness fall through and get him into trouble. Still, despite it all, he endeavours to be a good son, and a better role model for his little brother.

Libby and Jack’s relationship progressed in a realistic manner that I appreciated. Their mini-rivalry and and shift into friendship was entertaining to read. They don’t always behave in ways they should, and they each have their own insecurities and fears that are easily recognised. Their progression into falling in love seemed a little too fast, but on the whole it’s balanced quite well with their easy camaraderie that it doesn’t really detract from the story.

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TITLE: Holding Up the Universe
AUTHOR(S): Jennifer Niven
PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House
RRP: $19.99
ISBN: 9780141357058

Faustina was reading when she popped out of the womb. Probably. Reading is her life, and she’ll read pretty much anything. After reading her way through primary, high school, and university, and finding she hasn’t gotten sick of it, she’s still reading now. Her favourite genres are YA, realist fiction, and magical realist fiction, with a strong focus on diversity. She believes that houses should have in-built bookshelves in all the rooms, and that ebooks and printed books can get along.

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