Don’t you guys just love when you find a book that absolutely kicks your reading slump’s ass? I have spent over a month trying to find a book that interests me enough to keep reading and was unsuccessful until I picked up Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven. A friend and coworker of mine recommended this book and I devoured the whole thing in one sitting. I was messaging her while reading and she was immensely entertained by my ramblings and fangirling. Although I had one pretty big issue with it, I adored this story and highly recommend it.
Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven is about two teens navigating high school and overcoming personal struggles. Jack Masselin has been secretly struggling with a rare neurological disorder called prosopagnosia for most of his life. He is determined to keep his problem under wraps. Libby Strout was once known as America’s Fattest Teen after having to be removed from her home by a crane. Now, after two years of healing and homeschooling, she’s attempting to reintegrate into society and struggles with self-image and the unkindness of her classmates. After a vicious prank, Jack and Libby are forced to spend time together doing community service and eventually learn that they have more in common than anyone could have guessed.
One of the things I loved most about this book are the characters. I related to Jack and Libby more than I anticipated when I went into this book. Libby suffers from panic attacks and anxiety just like me. The descriptions of her feelings and experiences with her mental health had me wondering if Jennifer Niven could somehow see into my brain. As far as the mental health aspect goes, it was like she was writing me as a character. I have seldom felt completely represented in literature concerning my anxiety and Libby was a character that made me feel like I’m not alone. Now, thankfully, I do not suffer from prosopagnosia like the other main character, Jack. However, I spent most of my teen years struggling to hide my anxiety and depression, so I felt a connection with him based on his efforts to remain undiscovered. He, like me, found it very difficult to ask for help out of the fear of being judged by his peers. It was very refreshing to see my feelings reflected in these characters.
The message of this book is simple: above all, be kind. Unfortunately, kindness is all too rare in our world these days. It is easy to let the negativity reign free and kill our joy. Holding Up the Universe reminded me of the importance of staying positive and keeping a smile on my face. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about you; all that matters is how you see yourself and how you treat others.
There are several references throughout this book that made my fangirl heart soar. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing some of my other fandoms creep up in this book. I actually took pictures of each reference and sent them to my sister because she’s a fan as well. And because I am absolute fangirl trash ;).
There was only one thing I did not like about this book, but admittedly it is a pretty big issue. SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT: there is a trope present in this book that I do not appreciate. The idea that love can somehow heal or transcend mental illness. While I have not done much research on the subject, I find it very unlikely that romantic love can overcome something as uncontrollable as brain chemistry. I love my husband very much, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have anxiety attacks when he’s around. My husband helps calm me down and loves me in spite of my somewhat shaky mental health, but he is not a cure all. The idea that a mental illness or disorder can be thwarted by romantic love is very unrealistic and, I believe, damaging to young readers. A young girl might fall prey to this idea and believe that she is not really in love because her depression is still present even if she has a boyfriend or that she’s somehow broken because love can’t cure her. Love is beautiful and important, but it is not the antidote to mental illness.
All in all, I enjoyed Holding Up the Universe very much despite my issues with the tropes. I do highly recommend this story, but I must caution young readers to be mindful of the more problematic aspects. 4 out of 5 stars to this one!
I hope you all enjoyed this post! If you did, leave me a like and a comment as I would love to talk to you! I’ll see you all in the next one!