Jennifer Niven – Holding Up The Universe

Holding Up The Universe

I LOVED this book so much! I was desperate to keep reading, but unfortunately I was back at work yesterday so I couldn’t devour it in one sitting as I had hoped – but I still read the whole thing in less than two days.

I don’t think I’ve identified with a character recently as much as I identified with Libby. Previously ‘America’s Fattest Teen’, she had to be cut out of her house and lifted out with a crane as she was too big to get out on her own (no – that’s not the bit I identified with, thank you very much).

But now that she’s lost half of her weight, she feels fabulous. It’s just that she’s still overweight, and all everyone else can see is ‘Fat Libby’, or ‘that girl who had to be cut out of her house’. She’s trying so hard to be optimistic and enjoy her life, but when people leave notes in her locker telling her ‘You’re not wanted’, it’s quite hard to keep her head up.

This quote really resonated with me (my emphasis):

“I know what you’re thinking – if you hate it so much and it’s such a burden, just lose the weight, and then that job will go away. But I’m comfortable where I am. I may lose more weight. I may not. But why should what I weight affect other people? I mean, unless I’m sitting on them, who cares?”

Why does it matter? Why are we so quick to judge people for their physical appearance? Especially when we don’t know the whole story. Libby is judged for being fat, but she’s been on a huge journey and she’s (literally) half the woman she used to be.

The other central character in this book is Jack. At first glimpse, he looks like the polar opposite of Libby – he’s good looking, outgoing, the life of the party. But when their lives collide in a rather unpleasant manner, she soon realises that he’s not as perfect as he might seem.

You see, Jack has Prosopagnosia, which means that he is unable to recognise people’s faces. If you’re standing in a crowd talking to him, and he turns around and then looks back, he won’t know who you are any more. He can’t recognise anyone, not his on/off girlfriend, not his best friend, not even his family.

He’s done a pretty good job concealing this so far, but it seems like his carefully erected web is slowly starting to pull away at the edges.

I love how Libby and Jack both grow throughout the book, and how their relationship grows naturally and it doesn’t seem like the obvious teen-romance. Due to their own problems, they’re both much wiser than their years, and Niven has crafted two beautifully deep, well-rounded and non-stereotyped characters that made me forget I was reading a book aimed at teenagers and just let me become lost in the story.

This it the second book by Jennifer Niven that I have absolutely adored – the first was All the Bright Places. I will definitely be following this author very closely!

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 388
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 2nd January 2017 – 3rd January 2017
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.97
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Jennifer Niven – All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places

I don’t know if I even have the words within me to describe how beautifully this book was written, and how much it left my emotions tied in knots after being repeatedly wrung through a wringer.

Finch and Violet meet at the top of the school bell tower, both perilously close to the edge, both physically and mentally. And after Finch talks Violet down from the railings, it seems like he might be her lifeline and the only one capable of bringing her back to (relative) normality.

You see, Violet’s sister Eleanor was recently killed in a car crash, an accident that Violet feels responsible for, and ever since then, it’s like she’s been living in a black hole. And if anyone knows about black holes, it’s Finch. Unwilling to accept a label for his mental health problems (since everyone knows what happens when you get a label), he teeters wildly on the edge of a cliff, waiting to fall at any time.

It seems like they each may have found the perfect person to help with their problems and enable them to move forward, even though Violet may need a bit of persuading that Finch isn’t completely insane.

I don’t want to go any further into the plot from here as I don’t think I can without risking any major spoilers, but let’s just say the ending wasn’t quite what I expected.

Kudos to Niven for being able to write the book in such a way that I wasn’t able to predict the future of either character. And major kudos to Niven for tackling such sensitive subjects with tact and care. It’s obvious that Niven has taken the time to make sure she doesn’t just run to the typical stereotypes of the mental health problems dealt with, and the characters are first and foremost human, not just a caricature of a problem.

If I could read this book again straight away, I would, but this time I’d read it so much more slowly and luxuriate in Finch and Violet’s wanderings around Indiana and their blossoming relationship.

Captivating and beautiful, I can see why the Guardian review snippet on the cover calls it ‘the next Fault in Our Stars’.

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 388
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 12th September 2016 – 13th September 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.20
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