Synopses. Spoilers. Sarcasm.
Author of the stunning All The Bright Places Jennifer Niven does it again in her new novel, Holding Up The Universe. With a duel POV that was working for me to the NTH degree and two incredibly interesting character concepts, Universe was a fun, quick read that has surprisingly deep roots. Our first MC, Jack, is a half black boy with prosopagnosia, a disorder that makes him unable to recognize faces. With a dysfunctional family and his desire to keep his disorder hidden, Jack’s mental processes were written so well I had no doubt the amount of research Jennifer did for his character. Other MC Libby used to be America’s Fattest Teen and is known throughout the world as the girl who had to be cut out of her own house after she turns to eating after her mother dies. Now Libby is half her previous weight and heading back to regular high school, dealing with panic attacks and anxiety. The chapters are short and not overwhelming, the dialogue hilarious, and the tone similar to Bright Places in the sense of having deeper issues hidden behind every day interactions.
Let’s start with Jack, the goofy, loving, bad decision-maker who can’t tell who his own father is. The scene where he tries to pick his brother up at the party and can’t tell who he is was so scary to read. It was written so that you feel the anxiousness and horror Jack feels when he picks the wrong kid, and I felt like that was scarier than that scene where he makes out with the wrong girl because she looks like his ex-girlfriend. People ‘make out with the wrong person’ at parties because they’re drunk – being stone cold sober and not being able to tell who your family is is terrifying. I really liked that Jennifer made him half black without making the book about him being mixed race, because it’s normal to have families of mixed race nowadays. His father cheating with the chemistry teacher was another layer of disfunction within his home life, the whole not-knowing-your-family but knowing-they-are-doing-something-wrong must be an incredibly lonely feeling.
Oh, and his brother Dusty? A-fucking-dorable. You carry that purse and don’t give an F.
Libby, on the other hand, was just an alright character for me. Now don’t get me wrong: her having self confidence and being unshakable with all the shaming the horrible guys were throwing at her was a great way to write her, and I don’t wish she was different because many girls need to have a role model like her. That being said, she seemed like a normal girl character to me, even with the thoughts about her weight and the anxiety. Maybe it’s just because most girls have these thoughts? I don’t really think any relatable contemporary character is complete without having confidence issues or anxiety (I know I do). That being said, Libby has such a strong voice and does not put up with any of Jack’s shit. It was such an awkward, original way for the characters to meet through the ‘Fat Girl Rodeo’ game Kam makes up, with Libby punching Jack in the face!
With Bright Places taking me to emotional places my heart wasn’t ready to handle, Universe has similar feelings on a less depressing scale. Both of them have mental issues (Jack’s prosopagnosia, Libby’s eating disorder) and both were written so believably and deeply that I could fully immerse myself in their interactions. I connected with the characters more in Bright Places, but I liked the exploration of things-not-often-spoken-of in Universe. Overall it’s a fun read with lots of positive messages on loving the skin you’re in and letting yourself ask for help. If you like Nicola Yoon, Rainbow Rowell, or Huntley Fitzpatrick, you’ll love this book!
*I received an advanced reader copy of this book from Indigo Books & Music Inc. in exchange for an honest review*