Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Big, Random Act of Kindness

Thursday, September 1, 2016 with 2 comments
Title: Holding Up the Universe
Author: Jennifer Niven
Series: stand-alone
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Source: ARC received from publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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From the author of the New York Times bestseller All the Bright Places comes a heart-wrenching story about what it means to see someone—and love someone—for who they truly are.

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for EVERY POSSIBILITY LIFE HAS TO OFFER. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything in new and bad-ass ways, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.

Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. . . . Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are—and seeing them right back.

I know a lot of people took offense at the original synopsis for this book when it was released - I'm not one of them - but I found this story truly inspiring and heartfelt...empowering, even. It definitely made me want to stand a little taller, a little prouder. If we could all dance through life and work on building each other up more, the world would be a lot better place.

Having said that, the things that were mentioned in the initial summary for Holding Up the Universe - the issues that had so many in an uproar, like one of the main characters having to be physically removed from her house by crane - are still present in this story, but they are presented in such a way that I, personally, took no offense. Because this story is not about losing the weight or pretending to be someone you're not to gain acceptance; it's about being you, about being genuine and authentic and being all the you you can possibly be and not letting anyone else determine your self-worth. Knowing this story is based on real-life experiences - not the author's but someone close to her - made it all the more poignant.

Here's the thing, though: I liked Jack. I did. But I was really here for Libby's story. Her character was so vibrant and full of life, despite everything she's been through - is still going through - and I felt her charisma and confidence bleeding off the page and into me. Obviously, she has to deal with the everyday struggles of being overweight, but she's also going back to school after having been home-schooled for years and it's all portrayed so realistically. Libby doesn't take it all in stride; she battles constantly with how others see her and with how she perceives herself. But while her confidence wanes at times, it never fails to make its return and she is solidly Libby. Reading as she chased that bully, as she donned her bikini...I have so much love for this girl. She made me love her...and made me want to love myself more.

Jack's character, on the other hand, made me fidgety. If I didn't know about his diagnosis, I'd think he was the biggest jerk. But I liked his character in so far as how he represents the social hierarchy and how insecure it makes us all feel, even the ones who sit at the top. Maybe especially them because they often become the bullies who make the rest of us feel like less somehow. But Jack was also kind when it counted.

And kindness begets kindness. Like when the person in front of you buys your lunch for no other reason than that they wanted to, and you feel the urge to pay it forward. That's what this book felt like to me. A big, random act of kindness. It hurt my heart. It was raw and painful. But it ultimately left me full of hope that people can be better...that I can be better.

This is a book that EVERYONE should read.


GIF it to me straight:

About the author:

By the time I was ten, I had already written numerous songs, a poem for Parker Stevenson ("If there were a Miss America for men, You would surely win"), two autobiographies (All About Me and My Life in Indiana: I Will Never Be Happy Again), a Christmas story, several picture books (which I illustrated myself) featuring the Doodle Bugs from Outer Space, a play about Laura Ingalls Wilder's sister entitled Blindness Strikes Mary, a series of prison mysteries, a collection of short stories featuring me as the main character (an internationally famous rock star detective), and a partially finished novel about Vietnam. I was also an excellent speller from a very early age.

In 2000, I started writing full-time, and I haven't stopped... I've written eight books, and when I'm not working on the ninth, I'm contributing to my web magazine, Germ, thinking up new books, and dabbling in TV. I am always writing.

Find Jennifer:

WebsiteTwitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest


  1. Niven? Heck yeah sign me up! So glad to see you enjoyed it.

  2. I'm really intrigued by this book. I'm listening to All the Bright Places right now and really enjoying it. This review makes me want to pick this one up right away!


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