What happens when your birthday is coming up and you lose all track of time as a result?  You get First Reads Friday on a Monday!  Coming out next week, I couldn’t let you miss a  sneak peek of Jennifer Niven’s second novel.

From the book flap:

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.

Overall:  In comparison to All the Bright Places, Holding up the Universe is a cheery walk in the park.  No tissues needed, at all.  Promise.  That is what the internet promised me and that was what was delivered.  I see definite comparisons to Cammie McGovern’s A Step Towards Falling as well as Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’.

The disastrous beginning of Libby and Jack has far-reaching emotional consequences for both characters, but their time together doesn’t necessarily equate to a functional relationship.  It’s the reality of their situation that there isn’t a person, pill or perfect path that makes life whole or complete that I appreciate about this book.  Accepting oneself and working towards building your best life, putting one foot in front of the other, surrounding yourself with loving and supportive friends, trusting yourself, having set-backs, these are the realities of life.  Things aren’t tidy in this novel, but what holds it all together is Niven’s omnipresent sense of optimism.

 

Judge a Book by its Cover: While the cover doesn’t jump out as an immediate favorite, there are some textural elements to it that make me want to pet it. I especially love the marketing materials and the consistency between the first and second books.

 

 

Me Talk Pretty:  Jennifer’s writing style has a succinct and gripping element to it.  She does so much with just a few simple words, which is why I believe she is so incredibly popular.  We were provided an advanced copy of this novel by the publisher in exchange for an honest review, so these may not be Niven’s final words from the novel, but they’ll give you a good idea of how she catches your heart and holds it gently in her hands:

 “It’s exhausting, constantly having to search for the people you love.”

“My dad and I are driving home on National Road, heading past the college, when this wave comes over me, and I feel the hollow in my heart that’s been there ever since my mom died.”

“She’s exhausting and I’m exhausting and we’re exhausting.”

“The wishing herself smaller until she’s a size that won’t make other people feel uncomfortable.”

 

 

He Said/She Said:  Told in alternative points of view, Niven allows you to experience the world from both Libby and Jack’s perspective.  Hearing Libby’s pain at the loss of her mother, her emotions about her weight and Jack’s descriptions of prosopagnosia center the emotional arc of both characters.  What makes them particular real and human is that sometimes there’s no justifying their actions.

 

 

Open tab/Last call:   I’ll have a champagne cocktail ready for my meet-up with Jennifer Niven (you know, whenever she’s done with her worldwide tour and has a little time for me).

champagne-cocktail

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven releases October 4, 2016. Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, 400 pages.

 

~Carmen

 

 

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