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Book Review – Holding Up the Universe

Before I start this review, I want to discuss something–the buying and selling of ARCs (advanced readers copies). I made the mistake of doing this, and I’ll be the first to apologize for it. I had no idea the author sees no money from it. I also had no idea it wasn’t a final copy. But I noticed a few places in the book where simple formatting errors occurred, and a few places where there was a random letter before a sentence or a quotation was facing the wrong way. And now I get it.

So…

Don’t buy or sell ARCs, wait like everybody else to get a copy.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Holding Up the Universe, shall we?

Holding Up the Universe follows Libby, an obese teenager, and Jack, a boy suffering from face blindness–prosopagnosia–and their awkward tumble into love. 

It really is that simple. 

I was very disappointed with this book. I feel like Jennifer, the author, just leaned wayyyy too heavily on the obvious conflicts at hand–mental impairment and fatness. Like, she threw in an affair here and a dead parent there, but I don’t feel like it added much to the story because she didn’t go into it enough. I didn’t feel like Jack was directly effected by his father’s affair, just like I didn’t like being told Libby was fat because her mother died and she ate about it. 

There was a lot of telling going on. I don’t really know what Libby looks like, and this book is almost four hundred pages long. There was this moment at the end where Jack finally described her and I was sort of like, why didn’t you give this to us much sooner. I wanted to know that her eyelashes were as long as Jack’s arms and that she had freckles in the shape of constellations much sooner than within the last twenty pages. 

Jennifer has a very specific way of writing. She’s very metaphorical. But I didn’t feel the same ease reading these words that I did reading her international bestseller, All the Bright Places

I felt like it was lacking that finesse. It didn’t flow. And the duel points of view were hard to follow when they changed back and forth so often. We are already suffering with Jack who can’t tell us what his mom looks like so he sort of refers to everyone as Maybe This Person and Maybe That Person, and then just as we are beginning to understand it, WHAM, we are back with Libby and confused as to how she knows what these people look like, when you realize that–oh–we aren’t with Jack any longer. 

I also have this thing about connecting actions. It’s a detail thing. Where the author sort of thinks you’re just going to assume the character got out of the car and made it to the front door without telling you, but sometimes I think it’s necessary to go that extra mile. Otherwise you risk ripping your reader out of the story. Being an author means you know your reader well enough to give them everything they need without offending them with like grandiose explanations that make your reader feel stupid. 

But there were a couple scenes, one in particular, where she didn’t connect things together and I was confused. Libby gets out of the car, Jack gets out of the car. Libby goes to the front walk. And that’s all being said. But then suddenly Jack is talking to Libby and he’s looking into her eyes and you’re kind of like… oh so did he go up the walk too?

It’s a very minor thing, but it happened enough to mention it. And every time I did a double take wondering if I missed something and I never did. 

Part of me thinks Jennifer wrote with the idea that she could get away with more, which she can, and she’s still an incredible author, but I wish she hadn’t. 

I think Jennifer tried too hard sometimes too. All the Bright Places had many areas where it sort of fell into that upmarket/literary prose and you just fell in love with Jennifer a little bit more each time. It’s very lyrical. But in this book, it’s like she struggled to find that lyrical quality she once had. Sometimes the descriptions were so odd because you could feel her trying to write with the ease of All the Bright Places, but just missing it. 

Though she still–of course–had some bright moments. 

He says, “I was thinking we’d get something to eat and take it from there.” But he might as well say, I’m taking you to the moon and back, and while we’re up there I’m going to collect the stars for you so that you can keep them. 

And now I can’t help but look at him. And he smiles. It is slow at first, creeping across his face like a sunrise until suddenly it shines like the hottest point of the day.

I could also feel her trying to make these characters quirky like Violet and Finch. But they just… weren’t. They were kind of boring. I didn’t see the world in this amazing way while reading from their wavering perspectives. And if I did, it was very black and very white, and instead of feeling like Jack was walking through a group of strangers he’d never seen, I sort of felt like peoples’ faces were melting off and it was like a pre-apocalyptic nightmare where everyone was made out of candle wax and sort of standing over a hot flame. But that’s not what prosopagnosia is like (because I looked it up), and it just felt like Jennifer didn’t know the disorder as much as she needed to in order to write from the perspective of it. 

Like I didn’t feel like I got to know the disorder very well. I should have. I mean I spent at least two hundred pages in Jack’s head. 

Libby’s perspective was a little bit more believable, but as a former binge-eater myself, I wasn’t quite convinced. I don’t think it’s because Jennifer isn’t knowledgeable, I just think it’s because it’s hard to write from these two conflicting points of view when you’re not a teenager, morbidly obese, face-blind, and falling in love with someone whom everybody is making fun of.

“You’re a very wise woman.”

“I am, actually. You’d be amazed. But I’ve had a lot of time to read and watch talk shows and think. A LOT. So much time to think. Sometimes all I did all day was just wander around in my mind.”

Real teens aren’t twenty-five years old. We have bad skin and bad hair and good skin and good hair and we’re all different shapes and sizes. I like us better than our TV selves, even though sitting her, I feel like an actor playing a part.

The animal kingdom has crazy name for animal groups. A zeal of zebras. A murder of crows. An unkindness of ravens. And, my favorite, an embarrassment of pandas. What would this group be called? A horror of students? A nightmare of teens?

It’s just a really weird sort of tragedy. That’s what it was. It didn’t give me a whole lot of hope. It just felt really really tragic. And sad. And I was bummed for the two of them because I didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of light at the end of their tunnels. And I didn’t feel like I got a lot of closure. And it felt like another book where someone suffers and then you insert a lover interest and miraculously they no longer suffer. Even though, it wasn’t quite that bad. They’re both still suffering at the end. 

I did think Libby was pretty badass, I just had a hard time believing she wasn’t as affected by everything as she led us to believe. And Jack, idk. 

Gah. I just don’t know guys. 

I love Jennifer so much. This really hurts me to say that I can’t give this book more than like 75% out of a hundred. 

28.5/38

If I had to recommend to a reader of some kind, I would recommend to fans of Lucy Keating, it has that like union through weird circumstances likeDreamology. But Dreamology was fricken amazing.

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