Monday, October 3, 2016

HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE BY JENNIFER NIVEN - BOOK REVIEW

Hello everyone!

I am back with another book review! Today I am reviewing Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven. I was able to pick up an ARC copy of this book from BookCon, back in May. A review was not requested, however, because I received an advanced copy, I am providing one anyways. As always, all opinions are my own.


This book follows two characters, in two alternating first person perspectives. Libby Strout, a girl who, ever since the unexpected death of her mother, has been overweight. She mourned her lose in the comfort of her own home, trying to fill the void, as well as work through her own fears and anxieties. Due to the abruptness of her mother's death, and the fact that it could be hereditary, Libby struggled with being able to leave her home, go to school, etc. Eventually, things got so bad that one day, she had to be cut out of her home in order to get to the hospital. Libby has come a long way, and is ready to go back to school, gets some friends and maybe meet someone. Jack Masselin is your typical charmer. He puts on a persona of what people want him to be, because he knows its better to be the hunter than the hunted. However, Jack suffers from undiagnosed prosopagnosia, a condition where he can't recognize faces. He's learned to cope and make do, but things are getting harder, he mixes up his girlfriend with her cousin, tries to take home the wrong kid when he goes to pick up his brother at a play-date. No one knows what's really going on in Jack's brain.

I really loved that, in true Niven style, these characters were so real. I think part of that is due to Niven's understanding of what the characters are going through. She based Libby on someone in her life, as well as her own struggles. Jack face-blindness is also based on her cousin and uncle, who both have the condition. I know when the synopsis first came out (not this one, a different one), a lot of people were offended by it, how a 'skinny' author was writing about the struggles of a 'fat' girl. I didn't get a chance to read the initial blurb, but I think a) having the background info that Niven has personally been affected by these issues and b) having read the book, there isn't really anything to be offended by here. If anything, as a bigger girl myself, I felt empowered. It would be one thing if Niven just sits there and wrote about how big Libby was, and how much weight she had to lose to be 'normal,' I wouldn't be okay with that, but she doesn't. She presents issues that her characters face in a tasteful and tactful way.

Okay, now that all that is out of the way, let's talk about the story itself.

Obviously, a large chunk of this book deals with the characters difficulties, but there are also the day to day aspects of life in high school (many of which I did not want to re-live) and of course, the romance. I don't know if it would really be considered insta-love or not. You can kind of tell from the synopsis and just the storyline in general that Libby and Jack will end up together. So, in my head, I was picking up on the little details that the characters themselves weren't even seeing. There was kind of a moment where they were like "Okay, I like this person." but it wasn't out of the blue or random. You could see it coming, they just kind of switched on.

This may be one of the best written romances I've read in a while. Niven's writing style is so descriptive, my breath was catching when their eyes locked. There are so many swoon worthy moments throughout this book, by the end, I was just a puddle of feelings.

I think in general, Niven did a phenomenal job of making you feel so much in this book. I've never really had a book where I was overcome by so many emotions, both positive and negative. I was smiling along with Libby and fuming with Jack when he finds out about his dad. Just every emotion the characters felt, I felt too. I felt like I was in the story.

I will say that this was a difficult book to read. There are just so many real issues going on. While I don't have prosopagnosia, nor had I really heard of it before this book, I still felt sick to my stomach when Jack went to pick up Dusty. I was feeling the fear he felt, the anxiety of being in that situation and having no control of what is going on. And eventing with his dad, it felt too real for me, and some parts were hard to read because I understood everything so well. And with Libby, I related to her in terms of being heavier, not really fitting in as well as others, although I never experienced bullying firsthand, I still felt her fears. At one point, she has to decide if she wants to get the test to see if she might have the condition that killed her mother. While I couldn't imagine what it would be like to be in that tough situation, I felt her feelings.

I will end this review with one more thought; on the romanticism of mental illness. Some readers have mentioned this about this book and her previous book, All The Bright Places. I don't really remember ATBP *that* much, but in terms of this book, I don't see that romanticization. Libby and Jack both have their anxieties and fears, although some more crippling than others, and I don't think they are made to be this sort of dramatic cover for a shallow story. From my personal experiences with anxiety specifically, Niven hits the nail on the head. To be perfectly honest, the mental illness aspect is more of a secondary condition to the main issues; though they go hand in hand. Libby is worried about the what if's because of a traumatic experience and Jack lives in the crippling fear that someone might realize something is wrong and that there is nothing anyone can do to 'fix him.'

Anyways, I could go on forever, but long story short, I urge you to read this book. We need stories like this, stories that deal with diverse character problems, whether that be race, religion, size, physical ability, sexual orientation, etc. and this book fits that bill extremely well.