Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, but no one’s ever looked past her weight to see who she really is. Sine her mum’s death, Libby’s been hiding, but now she’s ready for high school.
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.
Then Jack meets Libby. And their worlds change.
If I’m honest, I wasn’t blown away by the blurb. The plot seemed thin, and a little obvious about the direction it was going. Probably the only thing that sold it to me was the concept – so rarely seen – of an overweight protagonist. I’m always interested in how minorities are portrayed in YA, and a fat girl as protagonist probably doesn’t happen too much (I’m aware of Butter, although I haven’t read it myself.)
The trouble is, when the minority/ background/ unrepresented characters DO come to the forefront, it’s never within a genre capacity. Boy meets girl, but it’s all about the character. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Where Holding Up The Universe is concerned, I found Jack Masselin a far more interesting character as a result of his neurological disorder. I’d heard of prosopagnosia through the works of Oliver Sacks (also mentioned by the characters in the book), but not to the in-depth, and first-hand account as given by Jack. This is a bonus for such books, it introduces readers to experiences and conditions they would otherwise have been completely unaware of. The trouble is, without these traits appearing in strong, plot driven pieces, the novel becomes about their differences from able-bodied, straight, white counterparts. It still draws a line of separation between one, and the Other.
Something to think about, I guess.
But back to my thoughts on Holding Up The Universe…
Libby and Jack are fully developed characters with backstories, family issues, fears and aspirations. Their own identifiers (fat and face blind), are well thought out, and dealt with sensitively, and realistically. I liked the format. Nothing pulls you in to a story quite like switching between POV characters ever couple of pages or so. And Jack and Libby are, for the most part, down to earth and most importantly read as teenagers. Swear words! Sex talk! It’s all in there. There’re moments of humour from Jack (that I fear are lacking somewhat toward the end of the novel. Nothing worse than a character who sacrifices some sass for a love interest), and then we have the odd bit of dialogue that doesn’t entirely ring true, such as this from Libby:
‘…and stars are everywhere, so close I feel I could really collect them and take them home, maybe wear them in my hair.’
Right. There’s just something about expressive poetic language in a novel that doesn’t quite read naturally.
And speaking of dialogue…who are they talking to? We the readers, I suppose, because no one’s writing in a diary, or composing a letter. I guess its purpose is to bring the reader into their lives a bit more, allowing us access into the inner thoughts and feelings, but it’s also a little distracting, as though they are aware of their fictional status. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who found the thing with the last names odd. It would be interesting to know exactly how many times a character is referred to by both their first and last name. I imagine it would be quite a lot.
Libby and Jack are engaging, and that combined with the layout help you fly through the novel (I finished it in two days). Recommendation enough for anyone thinking of giving it a read.