Review: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

I'd heard of American author Jennifer Niven, but I'd never had the slightest inclination to pick up one of her books--the two that are currently in print in Australia are both YA titles that fall squarely into the unlikely high school romance category and I've read my fair share of books like that already. I only picked this one up because my local bookstore was having one of those buy two books from this table and you can get a third free promotion. It was one of those deals where the table had two books that I was itching to read, and this one looked nicer than some of the other titles available.

What I got was a YA novel about an unlikely high school romance.

Fortunately, this unlikely romance was written quite well. Jack is one of the popular kids. He can be a bit of a jerk at times, but he's not really a bully like some of the others he hangs around with. He's struggling with a surprising secret though--he cannot recognise other people's faces and this often lands him in trouble and he can sometimes do the wrong thing by someone without intending to. He has a horrible on-off relationship with a mean, manipulative girl from his class which only contributes to his problems.

Libby Stout, who is quite possibly the most unfortunately named character since Dickens, is attending high school for the first time. Three years ago, she was so overweight that she had to be cut out of her house by emergency services and taken to hospital. She's lost half of that weight and she's ready to tackle high school. And she's not going to take any nonsense from bullies--and they certainly try to cause trouble in her first few days at school. This leads to an unpleasant encounter with Jack, and the pair find themselves on a sort-of corrective behaviour programme at their school, which in turn leads the pair to becoming closer than what anyone expected.

This was an interesting take on the genre, which raises questions about identity, bullying and standing up for oneself. Although a little far-fetched in that special way that only American novels can be, this one delivers an interesting enough message to its target audience and to anyone else who cares to join in. I'd never heard of face-blindness, and found it quite interesting to read about Jack's struggles and the lengths that he goes to in order to hide it from his loved ones.



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