The Phoenix

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

In Holding Up the Universe, Jennifer Niven writes about Libby Strout, a girl who has spent most of her high school years in her home recovering from being known as “America’s Fattest Teen”.

When she returns to high school for her junior year, she fears no one will look past who she used to be, yet she is determined to become a Damsel, a member of the school’s dance team.

Niven also introduces us to Jack Masselin, who seems like a typical popular kid on the outside, cool and collected with a perfect set of locks on his head. However, Jack suffers from prosopagnosia, which prevents him from recognizing faces, even those of his own family.

When these two worlds collide in the form of a cruel joke, Jack and Libby are forced to spend time with each other in group counseling and community service. The more they bond and get to know each other, the more similar they find themselves and the less alone they feel.

This story sheds an important light on ‘fat-shaming’, which is something Libby experiences countless times throughout the book. Whether it’s her classmates jeering at her on her first day at school or the hate mail she received after having to being removed from her house by crane.

It’s an important theme that needs to be discussed, since it’s a problem that occurs in real life as well as in the media. However, though Libby’s character is bullied constantly throughout the book, Libby maintains her confidence. Whether she’s walking down the school hallway in a bright purple bikini or dancing like no one’s watching in public, Libby’s bubbly personality shows readers and Jack that she can handle herself just fine.

While a large portion of this book was focused on the romantic relationship between Libby and Jack, there is a greater theme of acceptance and seeing people for who they really are inside. Jack is representative of your typical ignorant or intolerant person who has to learn his own place. While reading Jack and Libby’s relationship was an enjoyable aspect of the story, the best part was Libby’s strong, unbeatable personality.

Jennifer Niven has written several other books, including the acclaimed young adult novel, All the Bright Places.

Read the first four chapters of the novel for free HERE.

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