I first saw Holding Up The Universe when I was having a browse round a popular high-street bookshop. The title caught my eye. I thought it seemed interesting. The book was on a high shelf and, being only 5 foot 4, I had to stand on tiptoe to reach it. I am pleased to say that the (slight) effort was worth it.
Holding Up The Universe is funny, poignant and refreshing. It tells the fictional story of Libby Strout, once ‘America’s Fattest Teen’, and Jack Masselin, who has Prosopagnosia (face blindness).
The pair meet in school, when a prank goes wrong. Libby is adapting to life back in education, after being housebound, and Jack is keeping his Prosopagnosia a secret from everyone else.
The author, Jennifer Niven, deals with the important themes of identity, love and self-esteem. Niven also focuses on bereavement and does so with real empathy, describing perfectly how the loss of a loved one can easily transform into a general chronic fear.
In lighter moments, the book makes some humorous nods to Popular Culture, including a knowing reference to how and why teenagers in TV shows never look like those in real life. Holding Up The Universe name-checks quite a few songs, perfect for some rehearsal room reading. The emphasis on music is down to Libby’s love of dancing, which plays a key role in the plot.
Alongside these factors, the biggest strength of this book is the characterisation. There is no reliance on stereotypes. Every character feels believable because they are complex and well-drawn. The book is written in dual-narrative, alternating between Libby and Jack. It’s a device that contributes to the successful characterisation, as the same events are seen from more than one perspective. The result is that none of the characters appear perfect or completely terrible people. All of the characters make mistakes, but even those that would be deemed as ‘bad’ show some likeable qualities.
The characterisation sends an important message of the need to understand others and to refrain from judgement. People can surprise you.
Here are some songs that are the perfect soundtrack for reading Holding Up The Universe
All Right Now– by Free (In the book)
Who Do You Think You Are- by The Spice Girls (In the book)
Flashdance…What A Feeling– by Irene Cara (In the book)
Don’t Kill My Vibe– by Sigrid, (Not in the book, but I can picture Libby dancing to it)