Genre: Romance, Fiction
Book Jacket Synopsis: “Everyone thinks they known 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. Since 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. 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 art of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a 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, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his own 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 – Libby and Jack are both angry, 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.”
Review: Based on the book jacket synopsis, Holding Up the Universe sounded… iffy. But I wanted to give this book a try for two reasons:
1) I’ve been fascinated by face blindness (prosopagnosia) since I first learned about it in an undergraduate psychology course seven years ago, and Holding Up the Universe is the first fiction book I’ve found that has a character with prosopagnosia.
2) I’ve read Niven before, and while All the Bright Places had its flaws, it’s the first book that made me cry in a really long time.
Holding Up the Universe alternates between Jack’s and Libby’s perspectives. I expected to like Jack’s chapters more given my interest in prosopagnosia. Unfortunately, I found it very hard to believe that Jack could actually suffer from prosopagnosia without anyone, especially his family, noticing that something was wrong. I was also very frustrated with most of Jack’s subplots, including his girlfriend drama and father’s affair. None of the characters had appropriate reactions to the revelation that Jack’s dad was having an affair with one of Jack’s teachers, making the whole affair subplot feel like an afterthought that was introduced to stir up trouble and make the reader pity Jack. As it turns out, Libby Strout was hands down the best part of Holding Up the Universe. She was funny, strong, and endearing; I was rooting for her from the getgo. I vastly preferred reading her chapters and particularly liked the portrayal of her relationships with her father and friends. Whereas Jack’s subplots did little to make me care about him as a character, Libby’s were well written and actually made me feel what Niven intended.
“In the hospital, I held her hand until my grandmother came in, and my dad, and the rest of my family. All of them sweet and loving and brokenhearted, but none of them like my mom. Not even all together. They didn’t begin to add up to her.”
I actually think Holding Up the Universe would have been better without Jack; his romance with Libby felt very insta-lovey, they had no real chemistry, and he didn’t add much to the novel overall. With that in mind, Holding Up the Universe is a just okay book. But I do think a lot of young women could benefit from reading about Libby Strout.