REVIEW Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

“a book you’ll reluctantly put down when it’s way past time to put the lights out”

Libby Strout is starting high school. She knows she’s going to be the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. She’ll be the fattest kid in the school. And how long’s it going to be before people realise she was once the fattest kid in America, the girl who had to be lifted out of her home by crane once part of the wall had been demolished. Libby’s been hiding for years. And now she’s ready to live a normal life. But is the rest of the world ready to welcome her?

Jack Masselin is one of the cool kids. But his swagger is hiding a secret. He’s suffering from a rare brain condition which means that he can’t remember people’s faces. Every time he sees someone, it’s like seeing them for the first time, even close family members, even his best friends and his girlfriend. When he wakes in the morning and looks in the mirror, even his own face is new to him.

In Holding Up the Universe, Jennifer Niven gives us the love story of Libby and Jack. These are two people who have more than enough to contend with just being themselves, but who come to find strength and support in each other. The romance is poignant and charming, the moments of setback and forward movement perfectly balanced to drive the story forward.

Libby is a wonderful character, very human. The story of how she gained weight and lost it, how she hid from the world and why she’s ready to step out into it again is honest and sympathetic and understandable. I love her guts and her willingness to tell it like it is. I loved those moments when she threw herself into things with passion – her dancing, driving along the highway, swimming. Her attraction to Jack and her lack of confidence about it rang blisteringly true.

I was fascinated by Jack’s condition, but found myself doubting it often. How would it be possible for someone to live with a problem like this for so many years without someone suspecting there was something wrong with them? It simply doesn’t make sense to me. However, putting this to one side, Jack is a great character, swaggering self-confidence hiding self-doubt.

Holding Up the Universe is a book you’ll reluctantly put down when it’s way past time to put the lights out, a book to tear through, rooting for the characters, wiping away the occasional tear. Don’t scrutinize it too much. You’ll love it.

Claire Watts


More to Read!

After reading Holding Up the Universe, I was on the lookout for books that had fat leading characters but which didn’t treat fatness as an ‘issue’. Check out this great post for a list of ‘body-postive’ YA reads.


Claire Watts writes and edits fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. Her latest YA novel is Gingerbread & Cupcake


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