Review by Brie: HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE by Jennifer Niven

HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE by Jennifer Niven is releasing on October 4th (just 2 short weeks!). We are so thankful to have been given an early copy and the opportunity to read and share our thoughts on this book with you. 
Keep reading for Brie's review and make sure to keep your eyes on Ursula's Instagram account for her thoughts around release day.
If I’m being honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Jennifer’s first novel ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES. Not because I didn’t enjoy the writing or the characters though. I felt like I spent the whole book just waiting for this awful thing to happen. So I was in a constant state of anxiety as to WHEN it would happen. It put a very depressive tone to my whole reading experience, but maybe this was how she wanted the reader to feel. When I finished reading ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES and I read the “Author’s Note” about how it was kind of an autobiography and a story Jennifer needed to tell, which actually did change my feelings and I wished that I had known that bit of information going into the story. With that being said, I ABSOLUTELY LOVED this book. I’m so grateful that I didn’t let my first experience with Jennifer Niven’s work deter me from reading her latest novel, HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE.

From the author of the New York Times bestseller All the Bright Places comes a heart-wrenching story about what it means to see someone—and love someone—for who they truly are.

Everyone thinks they know 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. Following 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. In that moment, 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 impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired 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 in new and bad-ass ways, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his 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 and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, 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.

Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are—and seeing them right back.

…suddenly I feel naked, like I might as well be laid out on a dissecting table, insides exposed to the world. There’s no way I can ever explain to anyone other than my dad the importance of being prepared, of always being one step ahead of everyone and everything. 

“Better to be the hunter instead of the hunted. Even if you’re hunting yourself.”

HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE is a coming of age story about two teens going through two very different issues, yet they find a sense of acceptance and meaning in each other. I connected with both of the main characters immediately. I didn’t deal with exactly the same issue that they did while in high school, but I dealt with my own share of bullying throughout my education. So much so that I ended up switching schools in middle school and leaving high school early. Much like what drew the author to write ALL THE BRING PLACES, the characters and experiences in HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE stemmed from her personal life. Jack suffers from something called face blindness. This is a disorder that I had never heard of before. Jennifer did such an amazing job with Jack’s parts in the novel. His point of view really made me “see” what it must feel like to live with it every day. In a note to the readers she tells us that her cousin also suffers from this same disorder. What an amazing thing for her to be able to share his story and expose all of us to something that is actually more common than we may think. It’s about as common as having red hair (like me!).

This is what I know about loss.
It doesn’t get better. You just get (somewhat) used to it.
You never stop missing the people who go away.
For something that isn’t’ there anymore, it weighs a ton.

Being quite a bit older than these characters, I have been through much in my life. This quote hit a cord with me. It’s so true that when you lose something or someone it weighs on you and your life. Amazing that something that isn’t there can have such a profound affect. This book also addresses bullying, loss and depression. How these things can affect, shape and change a person. Libby loses her mom just before starting her teen years. This loss hits her so hard that she beings a downward spiral of depression and isolation. For Libby the depression leads her to eat and eat and eat until she’s so big that she can no longer move. That’s a pretty extreme case but weight gain, food addiction and isolation are things that can so easily happen to any of us at any age. I loved seeing her become strong and confident throughout the book. There were moments when all I wanted to do was crawl into the book, give her a big hug and a shoulder to cry on. But there were also times where I could feel myself nodding my head saying: “Yep! I’ve been there too girl.” Or times when I was cheering her on thinking “You go girl! You rock.” With the bullying I experienced in my own life I almost felt like I was Libby. I understood where her feelings were coming from and I only wish I could have been as brave as her.

“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. Sometimes it’s like self-defensive shittiness.”

This book is one that will stick with me for a long time. It touched something deep down in my soul and I cannot wait for everyone else to get to experience Jack and Libby in 2 weeks. Fans of John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jandy Nelson will enjoy this powerful story. I think HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE is the perfect read for teens. We all need to know that we are not alone and that there is hope. If you haven’t preordered your copy yet, I highly encourage you to do so. You do not want to miss this book!

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Niven has always wanted to be a Charlie's Angel, but her true passion is writing. Her most recent book, All the Bright Places, is her first novel for young adult readers and tells the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die. All the Bright Places was the GoodReads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction of 2015, and named a Best Book of the Year by Time Magazine, NPR, the Guardian, Publisher's Weekly, YALSA, Barnes & Noble, BuzzFeed, the New York Public Library, and others. It was also the #1 Kids' Indie Next Book for Winter '14-'15 and SCIBA's Young Adult Book of the Year, as well as being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and longlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. As of today, the book has spent over thirty weeks as a New York Times bestseller, and foreign rights have sold to forty-one foreign territories. The movie rights have been optioned with Elle Fanning attached to star and Jennifer writing the script. As a companion to the book, Jennifer has created Germ, a web magazine for and run by girls (and boys) — high school and beyond — that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in between.
With the publication of her first book, The Ice Master, Jennifer became a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writer. A nonfiction account of a deadly Arctic expedition, The Ice Master was released in November 2000 and named one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, and translated into multiple languages, including German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Danish, and Icelandic. Jennifer and The Ice Master appeared in Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, Talk, Glamour, The New Yorker, Outside, The New York Times Book Review, The London Daily Mail, The London Times, and Writer's Digest, among others. Dateline BBC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel featured The Ice Master an hour-long documentaries, and the book was the subject of numerous German, Canadian, and British television documentaries. The Ice Master has been nominated for awards by the American Library Association and Book Sense, and received Italy's esteemed Gambrinus Giuseppe Mazzotti Prize for 2002.

Jennifer's second book, Ada Blackjack — an inspiring true story of the woman the press called "the female Robinson Crusoe" — has been translated into Chinese, French, and Estonian, was a Book Sense Top Ten Pick, and was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the Top Five Arctic books. 

Her memoir, The Aqua-Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town, was published in February 2010 by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and was optioned by Warner Bros. as a television series.

Her first novel, Velva Jean Learns to Drive (based on her Emmy Award-winning film of the same name), was released July 2009 by Penguin/Plume. It was an Indie Pick for the August 2009 Indie Next List and was also a Costco Book of the Month. The second book in the Velva Jean series, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, was released by Penguin/Plume in August 2011, and the third book in the series, Becoming Clementine, was published in September 2012. The fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde, is available now. 

With her mother, author Penelope Niven, Jennifer has conducted numerous seminars in writing and addressed audiences around the world. She lives in Los Angeles.

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