Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, but no one’s ever looked past her weight to see who she really is. Since her mum’s death, Libby’s been hiding, but now she’s ready for high school. I want to be the girl who can do anything.
Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin too – sexy, aloof and too cool for school. But Jack’s swaggering confidence is hiding a secret he must keep at all costs. Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.
Then Jack meets Libby. And their worlds change. Because sometimes when you meet someone, the whole universe just comes into focus.
Holding up the Universe is, in effect, your typical YA novel with its short chapters, insta-love story and the usual themes around bullying, weight and friendships. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times; I despise insta-romance! Boy sees girl. Girl sees boy. Poof, they fall in love. *Someone pass me the sick bucket*. Unfortunately, this novel by Jennifer Niven includes one of those ridiculous chapters I have come to loathe, where the protagonists instantly proclaim their undying love for one another. If this wasn’t bad enough, I quote the following lines:
‘I’m completely conscious of his guyness next to me.’
‘It’s as if I’ve suddenly discovered he’s male.’
‘My face is hot and my back is damp. I’m staring at his hands and I’m like, Stop staring at his hands.’
I feel I have made my point! All that ‘cringe’ aside, I actually really enjoyed the story behind Jack, a teenage boy living with a neurological condition called prosopagnosia which is often referred to as ‘face blindness’.
‘It’s not like faces are a blank. I see eyes, noses, mouths. I just can’t associate them with specific people. Everyone in my life is a stranger, and that includes me.’
Following an accident when he was six, Jack has hidden his brain disorder from everyone including his own family. When he meets Libby, an obese girl trying to move on from the loss of her mum (and a viral video of her being cut out of her own house), Jack realises that he can’t hide his condition forever. Together, they learn an important life lesson – that it is what’s on the inside that really counts. Dusty, Jack’s younger brother, is an important character in delivering this crucial message throughout. Be whoever you want to be no matter what others think about you.
I managed to race through this book pretty quickly, however my interest lied more in finding out about prosopagnosia than following along with the storyline. Having never heard of this condition before, I set off to do some research and discovered that as many as 1 in 50 people live with the struggle of face blindness. The NHS explain the condition as follows:
‘Many people with prosopagnosia aren’t able to recognise family members, partners or friends. They may cope by using alternative strategies to recognise people, such as remembering the way they walk, or their hairstyle, voice or clothing. But these types of compensation strategies don’t always work, particularly when a person with prosopagnosia meets someone out of context, at a place or time they’re not used to seeing that person.’
It must be absolutely exhausting scrambling for someone’s identity at every social encounter. An important book for raising awareness of a fascinating, yet terrifying, condition that deserves more attention and research.