by Jennifer Niven
Published October 4th 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf
“Dear friend, You are not a freak. You are wanted. You are necessary. You are the only you there is. Don’t be afraid to leave the castle. It’s a great big world out there. Love, a fellow reader”
This book was forced on me by my small sister. She kept asking me if I have read it every day for the last week and in the end I caved and read it. I remember long before it came out, the book had been branded problematic because of the blurb. People were rating it horribly when they had not read it and people who genuinely enjoyed the book were attacked in the online community. I never really got into it so I don’t have the specifics but I remember it being a big deal. At that point I had never read any of her books and that’s what pushed me to get All the Bright Places which I highly recommend.
“How can something so final happen in an instant? No preparation. No warning. No chance to do all the things you planned to do. No chance to say goodbye.”
Holding Up the Universe follows Libby and Jack, both struggling through individual issues. Jack has a condition called prosopagnosia which is face blindness, he cannot recognize any face including his own. No one in his life knows about this because he has gotten good at covering it up. People with prosopagnosia use other identifiers to tell who is who and that’s what he does.
Libby was once dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’ when she had to be cut out of her home. This led her to missing some school years as she was recovering from her weight problem. But now she is better. She has lost most of the weight although people still consider her as chubby, she is in a happy place. She makes the decision to go back to school even though her father is not so confident about the move. What if people drive her back to the place she was before getting help? But I loved her. She was optimistic that she could make it and didn’t listen to the ‘what ifs?’ being thrown her way.
“People are shitty for a lot of reasons. Sometimes they’re just shitty people. Sometimes people have been shitty to them and, even though they don’t realize it, they take that shitty upbringing and go out into the world and treat others the same way. Sometimes they’re shitty because they’re afraid. Sometimes they choose to be shitty to others before others can be shitty to them. So it’s like self-defensive shittiness.”
Jack and Libby’s friendship starts the wrong way. But as the days go by, they get close and they share their problems with each other. They are there for each other through it all. Libby is the only one who knows about his condition and she is there for him in so many ways because she is just a nice person. Even when he fails her, she doesn’t fail him at any point.
To be honest, I had never heard about prosopagnosia before this book. When my sister was telling me about it, I was like “how can you not recognize faces?” It just sounded bizarre. Mind you, this book had been in my kindle for months and I had never even read the blurb. So when my small sister told me about it, I was intrigued enough to try out he first chapter when I got into bed. I went through half of it that night. That’s the thing with Jennifer Nivens’ books, they can captivate you.
The story was educative about so many things and the fact that people were coming at her for being insensitive to people going through this was rather odd. She went through weight struggles in her teen years and has family members who suffer from prosopagnosia who gave her some of the insights while writing the book. In the book, Jack repeatedly hints at feeling his mind is broken. There are people who have such thoughts about themselves and it is not necessarily a writer being insensitive towards the condition.
I saw a review left by a girl with the condition Jack has and she was offended by the synopsis because she feels that her life has been generally normal. She explained it all too well and her points made sense. She was born with it and has been that way all her life. Jack acquired it and so he struggled with it in a different way. The same way a person born blind and one who becomes blind later in life might not have the same outlook when it comes to life. I don’t think the author was saying people with the condition are broken in any way, they were just feelings Jack had about himself.
The story was okay in my opinion but there was something missing by the end of it.