Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven is a teen love story involving two very different people. The leads are Libby Strout, an overweight teenager and Jack Masselin, whose family owns a toy store, and who suffers from prosopagnosia. In this neurological disorder, a person is unable to recognize faces.
The novel moves back and forth from the present where Libby is a high school junior to the past when she last attended school as a fifth-grader. The shock of her mother’s sudden death when Libby is in the fifth grade leads to her binge-eating to the weight of 653 pounds. She is pronounced America’s Fattest Teen and has to be ultimately cut out of her home and lifted out by a crane. Jack, unknown to her, witnesses this incident since he is her neighbour at that time. Libby then moves to another part of town, loses a considerable amount of weight and rejoins school much later.
Jack studies in the same school as Libby and suffers from facial blindness (i.e. prosopagnosia) due to a fall where he hurts his head. But he has been successfully hiding his disorder from everyone (including his family). He meets Libby when he forcibly hugs her as a part of a game designed to humiliate fat kids, which he agrees to, due to peer pressure. But preemptively, Jack confesses about his unique condition to Libby in a letter which she reads only after the incident.
Libby, on the other hand, defaces school property with derogatory remarks about her weight expecting to be taunted about it by her schoolmates. Both these incidents land them at the principal’s office where they are forced to do community service together, which brings them closer, and they fall in love.
Over the course, Libby slowly develops into a girl who is confident and does not let her weight or comments such as ‘You are not wanted’ bog her down. She continues to strive to rise above her issues and to project herself as a well-adjusted teen. She even participates in the cheerleader tryouts!
Jack, however, seems to carry his condition as a chip on his shoulder and tries to sail through life without leaving his comfort zone. He even breaks up with Libby later in the novel. He shares his disorder with everyone only when circumstances go out of control and force his hand.
So how do you think Jack and Libby recover from their disappointments? How do people react to Jack’s revelations? Do Jack and Libby get together again?
Read the book to find out!
Age:14+(sensitive themes and strong language. User Discretion advised)
This book is a teen love story involving two very different people. They are Libby Strout, an overweight teenager and Jack Masselin, and who suffers from prosopagnosia(a neurological disorder).
- Simple language and smaller chapters
- The subject of being overweight is dealt with sensitively
- Gives us information about prosopagnosia, a relatively unknown disorder
- Teaches children to accept their flaws and not treat them as drawbacks
- Libby’s character arc provides hope for the so-called ‘misfits’
- Only Jack’s and Libby’s perspectives are shown, we don’t know what their friends or family think/feel
- It seems a little unbelievable that a loving dad would allow his daughter to become as big as a house before taking some steps
- The fact that Jack can hide his condition even from his immediate family is not plausible
- Jack seems to ‘remember’ only Libby’s face! How is that possible with the disorder he has?
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