“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” – Albert Camus
I hesitate to write this review, which is why I decided to hide behind the great Albert Camus would be a wise way to start. To give a bit of background, earlier this year I read All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven and it instantly became a favorite of mine. To go even further in depth, I am a sucker for YA romance. Everything, Everything is one of my all-time favorite books. Oftentimes, I find myself wondering at what point is a story too cheesy for my liking (I have yet to hit that point in a YA book I’ve finished, shockingly). Some amazing ones I have read recently are:
Everything I Never Told You
All the Bright Places
The Sun is Also a Star
Before I Fall
This is a genre I am fairly new to, but one I have quickly grown to like. I like the innocence, the flirtatiousness of it. I enjoy the ways these books grip my heart and do with it as they please. But, to cut to the heart of it, I did not like Holding Up the Universe. I feel this book could have been very great. In fact, I remarked to my fiancée today that this would have been a great book if Jodi Picoult had written it. I felt that Jennifer Niven compromised. She went for something bold but then made choices along the way that undermined the otherwise stellar premise and purpose of the novel.
Holding Up the Universe is about Jack Masselin and Libby Strout. Jack has prosopagnosia, which is the inability to recognize faces, even those of his loved ones. Libby Strout has made her way into the news as “America’s Fattest Teen”. This book has received lots of criticism about being insensitive towards issues such as obesity, anxiety, and cognitive disorders. I do not think it is insensitive, at least not intentionally. I just do not think Niven did enough research.
The characters felt very faked and flat. Their two-dimensionality made it hard to fall in love with them and that’s even with listening to a well-done audiobook version of it from Audible. Their relationships, interactions, and lives felt too constructed and I was not very engaged or interested in what happened with them. But the plot was the reason I stuck with it.
***SPOILER ALERT DO NOT READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO SEE A SPOILER***
Halfway through the book, Libby and Jack expectedly fall in love. Three-quarters through, they break-up. It is here that I became re-intrigued. Again, I love a good romance as much as the next guy or girl, but I also love things that are unique, which this seemed to be shaping up to be. The book took a turn and it began to be about finding meaning within yourself and not seeking acceptance and fulfillment from other people as your identity. And then it happened. Right at the end of the book, as the two characters have come to terms with who they are and accepted it…they fall back in love and the final quote is from Jack who says when he is with Libby, he is home. Moreover, he suddenly can identify Libby’s face…even though I don’t think that’s how a cognitive disorder works. I felt that Niven had built to an amazing point with a great message and then let it all fall flat at the end.
To sum up what you may have missed, Niven basically ruined her entire book in the final pages. It was sitting at about a three-star read for me before the end and then it fell to a two-star. This all being said, I understand that some people do enjoy this book and the characters. I would caution you. This is not a particularly good YA romance. See the list of books above if you would like a better one to read. A hearty round of applause for All the Bright Places, but a disappointed shoulder slump for this novel. I guess I’ll just have to go read Everything, Everything yet again to make up for it…