(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Libby Strout has already lived through her worst nightmare. After a massive weight gain following her mother's sudden death, Libby had to be cut and craned out of her home. The videos went viral, earning her the nickname "America's Fattest Teen." A 300+ weight loss has given the 16-year-old some confidence and Libby's ready to give real life a do-over. At 351 lbs., she knows she'll still be a target, but maybe this time, her classmates will look beyond her weight and get to know her for the smart, spunky person she really is.
Jack Masselin goes to great pains to be the cool guy around school. If the 17-year-old can fake it well enough, no one will know about the secrets he hides. His prosopagnosia makes recognizing people—even his own family—almost impossible sometimes. No one can know about this freaky little side effect of his screwed-up brain. He hides it, as well as problems at home, by being smooth, charming, and sometimes, a class A jerk.
When a horrifying prank ends with Libby and Jack in detention together, the two make a surprising connection. Libby doesn't trust Jack's new attentiveness and Jack's not sure his cool factor can survive an unwitting attraction to the resident fat girl. Can two very different teens look past their own anger, anxiety, and prejudice to really see each other? If they're honest with each other, can they finally be real with themselves?
Holding Up the Universe, Jennifer Niven's newest contemporary YA, tells an affecting story about two teens searching for themselves in the confusing corridors of high school. Libby, of course, is wholly sympathetic. Bold and sassy, she's easy to cheer on, easy to root for. Jack's initial jerkiness makes him a little less appealing, but his vulnerability and changed ways makes up for it in the end. While Holding Up the Universe definitely has its dark moments, overall it's a bright, encouraging story that teaches important lessons about being yourself, being brave, and being kind. The plot gets idealistic, also a tad unrealistic as Jack (eventually) shows way more maturity than any high school boy I've ever known. A PG-13 version of this book would have been more enjoyable for me (and easier to recommend), but all in all, I enjoyed Holding Up the Universe.
(Readalikes: Wonder by R.J. Palacio; Butter by Erin Jade Lange; Skinny by Donna Cooner; and A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for strong language, sexual innuendo, and depictions of illegal drug use and underage drinking
To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Holding Up the Universe from the generous folks at Penguin Random House. Thank you!