Letter to Jennifer Niven 2.0

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Edition: Penguin Paperback
Release Date: October 4th 2016
Pages: 400
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Received as an ARC from Penguin Random House Australia (Thank you)
Links: Goodreads | Author's Website | Buy the book

You are wanted. You are necessary. You are loved.
Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, but no one’s ever looked past her weight to see who she really is. Since her mum’s death, Libby’s been hiding, but now she’s ready for high school. I want to be the girl who can do anything.
Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin too – sexy, aloof and too cool for school. But Jack’s swaggering confidence is hiding a secret he must keep at all costs. Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.
Then Jack meets Libby. And their worlds change. Because sometimes when you meet someone, the whole universe just comes into focus.

Dear Jennifer Niven,
I wrote to you over a year ago when you had somehow managed to sink your claws into my heart and soul with the release of All the Bright Places – my favourite novel in the world. A lot of time has passed since then, yet my feelings towards the wonderful and raw story, that is Finch and Violet’s, remains the gooey “I will love you forever” kind. As long as I could ramble on about All the Bright Places, this letter isn’t about that. It’s about Holding Up the Universe.

Let me just say that my expectations for Holding Up the Universe were sky high. I had a year of waiting to stalk your twitter page for updates on potential new releases (and obviously to read your wonderful commentary on Supernatural – high five for being Sam girls), a year to reminisce about All the Bright Places and to recommend it to everyone and anyone, and a year to wonder what painful yet magical dish you were going to serve next. 

If I am honest, I was worried that when addressing issues such as being overweight and prosopagnosia (which I had no knowledge of prior to reading HUTU), and addressing those issues through two characters who were bound to fall for each other, that they would inevitably be romanticized - as all too commonly seen in many YA Novels. Especially when having protagonists who aren’t white, privileged or well off is a rarity in young adult, I so badly needed Holding Up the Universe to right all of the other novel’s wrongs. I didn’t want this to be one of those cliché and morally unsettling stories about a fat girl who only realizes her worth once a popular guy sees it in her. It wasn’t.

Why authors aren’t presenting more diverse and less explored voices in their literature has always bamboozled me. I mean you’d think more would considering the human population and subsequently the portion of that population which read, isn’t solely made up of those who are white, privileged and well off. But Holding Up the Universe earns a glittering gold star for it’s wonderful ability to handle these issues with integrity.

Holding Up the Universe is awesome. It’s the kind of awesome that has multiple layers of awesome which when combined, make up an even awesomer (forgive me literary gods for using this non-existent word) fusion of awesome. Does that make sense? Probably not. But I’ve just finished this book so my feelings are a little incoherent. 

In the acknowledgements for Holding Up the Universe you shared that your friend Margaret Harrison said, “to be honest, after All the Bright Places, I was kind of waiting for someone to get hit by a truck or something on the last page. I’m glad no one got hit by a truck”. Margaret Harrison, it’s like you articulated my exact feelings before reading Holding Up the Universe. But god bless your soul Jennifer Niven, because the feelings you evoked with your latest release were not ones of heartache and suffering, but instead ones of love and adoration. I don’t think my heart could have taken any more sadness after All the Bright Places. 

Immediately I fell in love with Libby. A girl who was previously “America’s Fattest Teen” confined to the walls of her home, now entering the world once more. Libby Strout may possibly, dare I say, be one of the greatest characters I’ve read in YA Fiction. She just oozes loveliness, even when others didn’t deserve it. You know how people like to channel their inner Beyoncé when they want to feel confident and cool? Well as undeniably amazing as Beyoncé is, I think I’m going to start channelling my own inner Libby Strout. She was a badass mofo and I’m dying to be her friend!

"Life is too short to judge others. It is not our job to tell someone what they feel or who they are. Why not spend some time on yourself instead? I don't know you, but I can guarantee you have some issues you can work on. And maybe you've got a fit body and a perfect face, but I'll wager you've got insecurities too, ones that would keep you from stripping down to a purple bikini and modeling it in front of everyone. As for the rest of you, remember this: YOU ARE WANTED. Big, small, tall, short, pretty, plain, friendly, shy. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, not even yourself."

Although life handed Libby more than her fair share of adversity to overcome, she was always brave, forgiving and resilient. Sometimes so forgiving, I myself wondered how she had it in her. I thank you for writing a novel starring a plus size protagonist, we need more of those and we need that to not be the only facet of their story. With Libby’s story, it definitely wasn’t it. She was full of personality, full of ambition and full of heart. 

I loved that Libby loved to dance more than anything else in the world, and that nothing could stop her from doing so. I could relate to her love of dancing as well as her love of literature and Supernatural. But particularly, her struggle with weight and self-esteem. I thank you for writing about a character who wasn’t stick thin and who wasn’t always comfortable in her own skin, but had the courage to work towards it. Her courage and confidence was admirable and infectious. A modern day superhero in my eyes. Just as she lifted up the characters in the novel, I too felt inspired by her positive and caring attitude to both herself and others. 

To be honest, I could go on and on about why Libby left such an impression on me and ultimately, stole the spotlight. When looking at a portion of YA contemporary novels, Libby is a ray of sunshine that stands out among an otherwise flat group. She had her issues and insecurities like the rest of us, but she never let that stop her from achieving her goals or being good to others. Libby kept it real and didn’t take sh*t from anyone and for that I am sending both her and yourself, a heap of squishy hugs. 

I also have to mention that the Supernatural references totally made my day! I’m admittedly super obsessed with Supernatural, so Libby’s love for it was just another perfect reason as to why she tops the list of character’s I’d love to lunch with. We would obviously have the greatest discussions about Sam, Dean and Castiel and which season they had the best hair.

Prosopagnosia: the inability to recognize the faces of familiar people, typically as a result of damage to the brain.

Jack on the other hand, was a character I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. It took some time but I was surprised by how much he grew on me. He could come across as a jerk but truthfully, he was a good guy with a complex personal life. I couldn’t help but sympathise with his struggles with prosopagnosia. I had never heard about it before Holding Up the Universe and probably wouldn’t have otherwise. You managed to convey his experiences and his reaction to being diagnosed in such a realistic and honest way. It was clearly evident throughout the novel that you put in a heap of research and it really paid off. His storyline was so thought provoking and fascinating, you’ve really urged me to learn more about prosopagnosia and the effects it has on the people diagnosed with it (perfect example of the power diversity in novels has). 

I also loved that Jack was black and his own identifier was his cool ass afro! It’s sad that we hardly see any POC as love interests so I was really thrilled to see that wasn’t the case in Holding Up the Universe. I’d love to see more in the future!

“We're all weird and damaged in our own way. You're not the only one.”

One of the many things that shines through about Holding Up the Universe is that both protagonists had their own individual story arcs that were equally as interesting and emotional. No character was favoured over the other, both of their stories were given justice and the dual perspective was really effective in telling both of those stories (and of course adding to my shipping of the unlikely but well matched pair). I never found myself wanting to skip chapters because a POV got tiring. 

Pretty much the minute I picked HUTU up, I couldn’t put it down. That hasn’t happened with a book in ages. It is beautifully written (I don’t expect anything less because we have established you are an amazing author), well paced and filled with a series of events that were often confronting and intense, leaving me wide eyed and slack jawed. There were some characters who made me so mad, but Libby or Jack sorted them out. Power team!

Essentially, my expectations for Holding Up the Universe were totally met and in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. It's going straight to the re-reads pile. Holding Up the Universe is very much different to All the Bright Places yet both are 5 star reads that are brilliant in different ways. Thank you for always being so clearly passionate about the stories you tell and the characters you write and the readers who read them. It really comes across in your stories and contributes to the overall “PLEASE JENNIFER NIVEN NEVER STOP WRITING” feeling you leave your readers with. In fact, I’ve decided that I’m a Jennifer Niven book addict and I’m not ashamed. 

Sincerely,
Sunny xx

HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE IS OUT TODAY

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