I just finished yet another book that is a gigantic credit to the Young Adult category. My mum has been reading my favourite books, a few of which being Young Adult. She commented on their important messages, and their very serious undertones. Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven is absolutely no exception. I will definitely be making sure my mum gets to experience this brilliant tale too.
Libby Strout became somewhat famous for an eating disorder she developed after her mother died. While she had some supporters, others were disgusted, cruel and presumptuous. After her mother dying when she was very young, her father and her suffered with their grief, Libby turning to binge eating. Ready to get back to high school, Libby decides she will be the girl who can do anything. Take on the bullies and dance her way through high school. Meanwhile, Jack Masselin is fighting a battle no one knows about- and he wants to keep it that way. He suffers with prosopagnosia, meaning he cannot recognise faces; even those who are nearest and dearest to him. He follows the crowd in the hope no one will realise what he is suffering from.
I’ve been reading a lot of criticism about this story; it all suggesting Niven romanticised an eating disorder and a cognitive disorder. Reviewers don’t like that an overweight, unpopular girl and a slim, popular guy are the Romeo and Juliet of this story. For me, the lessons about Libby’s and Jack’s struggles were at the forefront at it all. The love story alongside it (what we open a lot of books for) was just another point of interest. And more interestingly, it showed how two teenagers – yes, perhaps stereotypically, unlikely characters; but isn’t that what Niven is challenging? – brighten up the other’s world accidentally and pretty nicely. More than that, I learnt about prosopagnosia which I had previously never heard of and listened to the voice of a character whose grief lead to an eating disorder people belittle every single day.
Holding up the Universe captures all of the elements of high school stories we love to read about, with an extra layer of This Is Important. The themes of this story were certainly unique and eye-opening; definitely themes young people would benefit from. And as usual, come to think of that, older people too. Libby is a particularly vital character for young people to read about. In so many ways I respected and adored her; I think her character is why I find this book quite so brilliant.
Ultimately, we root for both of Niven’s protagonists and that makes for a pretty awesome book.
~ Kat ~