Top critical review
Disappointing in a truthful way!
Reviewed in India 🇮🇳 on 28 December 2016
“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
Jennifer Niven, the New York Times bestselling author, has penned yet another inspiring and strikingly honest YA contemporary fiction called, Holding Up the Universe is an inspiring story about flawed teenager-hood that youngsters constantly try to sugarcoat it with fake story lines. Mostly the story revolves around two flawed teenagers, among whom, one is trying to hide away his flaws from the world and the other is trying hard to make the world accept her in her flawed way. And the teenagers learn a lot to embrace their shortcomings a lot from one another's journey to self-realization.
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 see who she really is. Since her mum'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. 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 art of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a 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, but he can't understand what's going on with the inner workings of his own 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, Libby and Jack are both angry, 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.
Libby Strout labelled as "America's Fattest Teen" is going to change her image in the eyes of her peers as she steps in for the her first day in high school after being home-schooled for few years following her accident and the post-accident depression. Libby is confident that her peers are either going to accept her or fat-shame her, mostly she believed in the latter. And all her hopes of falling in love, getting a part for her school's dance group and shedding the rest of the body fat away falls apart gradually she becomes a daily object of bullying, name-calling and shaming in her high school. But then Libby meets Jack...
Jack Masselin, the cool guy among his peers and in his high school knows how to fake it for ages as that will protect him from getting bullied by his peers. Jack also has a hot girlfriend, but recently he is facing trouble in keeping his relationship afloat mostly due to his psychological disorder of not being able to recognize human faces. Whereas Jack is only good at building and rebuilding robots from scratches, and Jack knows the price he needs to pay if his parents and friends get to know about his mental illness. Until Jack meets Libby...
After reading All The Bright Places, I expected that the author would come up with some rather extraordinary than her previous book, but unfortunately she failed to achieve that and moreover, the story is unexceptionally cheesy and corny to the very core, and left me wondering, that whether I'm reading a book by Jennifer Niven who created magic and fireworks from her debut book. Now you question me on whether the author has failed to portray her flawed-to-the-very-core characters? Well there's no doubt that the author has strikingly portrayed the story as well as the characters, but midway through the book, the story constantly tended towards the love story between Libby and Jack rather focusing on their fight and struggle with their respective mental illnesses.
Its not that there is nothing to hold on to after reading this book, as this is an extremely inspiring story where the author cleverly depicts the bitter truth about high schools and how peers bully the weaker co-students based on their looks or illness. But truthfully there's quite a lot of YA contemporary novels about fat-shaming and bullying that now the theme feels a bit boring. Yet somehow there is an underlying uplifting and strong message for the youngsters that the author conveyed sensitively and thoughtfully that the readers will be bound to take a pause and think about the hardcore honesty behind bullying.
The characters are strikingly developed with realism in their demeanor thereby to make them look interesting and mildly relatable in the eyes of the readers. What the characters lack is the bitter truth with their struggles and hardships to overcome over their illnesses and the depth in their character growth. The main character, Libby is an inspiring girl right from the very start but then half way through the story line, this once motivating, brave and kick-ass girl falls for Jack's cheesiest lines and in fact goes into depression to hear them. Jack, on the other hand, honed the skill to fake his illness among his peers yet somewhere mid way through the story line, his illness catches up to him and that is when, he begins to woo Libby with his corniest gestures.
The author's writing style is magnificent that is layered properly and cleverly with myriad of emotions that will pull the readers into the ocean filled with hear-felt fondness ranging from happiness to sadness to humor. The narrative is laced with light hearted feel despite of the weight of the social issues addressed by the author, in order to lighten up the overall mood of the story line. The pacing of this book differs from something being too slow to too fast to moderate, but the smooth flow of the story will keep the readers engaged.
PS: The charm of Indiana was missing from this book!
Overall, for me, this was an okay-ish teenage fiction, where everything is about teenage love, angst, lust and competition, but less about the hard journey of the two seriously flawed individuals. Yes there was lot of scope for the characters to grow out of their skins that make them project as victims, yet these two damsels found comfort among one another's arms rather than fighting their illnesses alone.