Author: Jennifer Niven
Published by: Penguin Random House UK
Publication date: 6th October 2016
Genres: YA Contemporary
Source: Review copy from the publisher.
At the beginning of last year, my blog was consumed by all things Jennifer Niven - and so was everyone else's. All The Bright Places was the new and exciting debut that everyone was talking about, and since then, readers have been eagerly but nervously awaiting Niven's second novel.
Holding Up The Universe didn't have the most graceful of reveals. Nine months ago when the book was announced, the online world was once again freaking out over one of Jennifer Niven's books - but not in a good way. "This sounds so horribly offensive" and "no no no no" are just some of the early comments that you can see on Goodreads, next to a billion one-star ratings based on the synopsis alone. Here's an extract from a review I found on Goodreads, which pretty much sums up all the rest from that time (before anyone had even read the book, I should add.)
[sic] "'She had to be lifted from her house by a crane' WHO THE FUCK WROTE THAT SYNOPSIS. THATS NOT OKAY. JUST DON'T SAY SHIT LIKE THAT. YA is so inclusive to the tiny, skinny pretty girls that when we get a fat character, she's viewed as the butt of a joke. And that is not diversty.
And the boy, who most likely will be seen as some odd feature of society whose mental illness is viewed as a quirk that can be changed with love and a relationship. NO THANKS.
As someone with mental illness and is also fat (and proud af about it), I can say for 100% certain that I will NOT read this book."
I'm just going to address a few things. Okay, first: there are people in the world who have had to be lifted from their house with a crane. That's a thing that people deal with. Why shouldn't they be included? The girl in the book who is lifted with a crane is confident, badass and proud of her size. She is definitely not the butt of a joke.
As for the boy, Jack? He doesn't even have a mental illness. Prosopagnosia is a neurological condition that can lead to mental illness but isn't one itself, and it's not a quirk that can be changed with love. Prosopagnosia doesn't have treatment or even a cure, and isn't a changeable condition.
So... yeah. I'm not overweight and I don't have Prosopagnosia, so I might not be the best person to say this, but I couldn't see anything offensive. I actually thought everything was handled very well. I loved Libby's confidence in herself and admired her courage to start living again after her mother's death. Jack fascinated me, and I actually learned a lot from this book. Like, did you know that one in 50 people can't recognise faces? And that Brad Pitt is one of them? Or that the part of your brain that recognises faces is above your right ear? Me neither. I'd never even heard of Prosopagnosia before reading Holding Up The Universe. It was clear to me that a ridiculous amount of research had been done, and it lists in the acknowledgements the amount of experts Niven spoke to to ensure the novel's authenticity.
I liked All The Bright Places, Niven's debut, but this is miles better and I loved it. If you're one of the people who saw the old synopsis (that I don't think Niven herself even wrote, but I could be wrong?) and decided against reading this: I recommend giving this book another chance. It's brilliant, hopeful, exhilarating and, frankly, very interesting; I could hardly tear my eyes away from the page.