Of Lovely Minds and Bodies: Jennifer Niven’s Holding Up the Universe

Let me explain a bit about Jennifer Niven before I begin this book review—for the sake of those unfamiliar with the author.

Jennifer is the daughter of Penelope Niven, who was also an accomplished writer. In the early stages of Jennifer’s career, she wrote nonfiction, which was her mother’s genre. When she published Velva Jean Learns to Drive, she was venturing into the world of fiction, and I became one of her biggest fans. Velva Jean was a heroine that I rooted for, that I loved, that I wanted to be like. Jennifer had me hooked.

In 2015, Jennifer decided to switch age groups—from adults to teens—and, as a result, became a New York Times bestselling author with her book, All the Bright Places. The novel sold in many different countries. Jennifer gained international acclaim. More importantly, she became more than “just an author” to so many young people—she became an advocate for those with mental illness.

Holding Up the Universe is Jennifer’s newest young adult novel, scheduled to release on October 4, 2016.

Here is the synopsis:

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 know who she really is. Following her mom’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. In that moment, 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 impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired 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 in new and bad-ass ways, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his 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 and community service — Libby and Jack are both pissed, 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.

Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are — and seeing them right back.

As a contributor to Germ Magazine (for the sake of transparency: it is an online publication created by Jennifer), I had the privilege of receiving an ARC of Holding Up the Universe in exchange for a review.

REVIEW (SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW):

Holding Up the UniverseRomance, for any age group, is not my genre of choice—but I have to admire Jennifer’s ability to make love stories feel true to real life. The romance between Libby and Jack starts slow and with lots of initial loathing. From there, it’s not an easy transition to love and acceptance.

Loosely based on Jennifer’s own experiences, she doesn’t sugar coat the hard issues, and I think that is what makes her writing so strong. The characters in this story are struggling to find the confidence to move forward with their lives. Libby is bullied for her weight. Jack is terrified he will lose everyone he loves if he tells them about his cognitive disorder. Jack’s brother carries a purse despite his schoolmates’ opinions of him. The list goes on.

A cowardly act inspires the bravery hidden in both Libby and Jack. They start to change the people around them, including each other, as they learn how to accept themselves and pursue their dreams. And interwoven with these trials is an underlying truth—that Libby and Jack are wanted simply as they are.

At times it is a heartbreaking journey, but I’m glad I tagged along to see all of the triumphs for our main characters. It’s like Niven’s writing invites you in and makes you want to stay for dinner. There is cordiality in her paragraphs, friendship in her sentences. Then she shakes it up with a dash of humor. There is a deliberate connection, like she’s reaching for the reader’s hand. Her writing does not suffer due to her intentions. On the contrary, her kindness magnifies the power of the story.

There were only a few things that bothered me, overall, about the book.

There were many minor characters and I eventually started to mix some of them up because of the sheer number of them. Oftentimes it was because a group of minor characters played a minute role in a single part of the novel, with only a brief mention of them later. The ones that were more concrete, like Caroline and Mr. Levine, I didn’t have too much trouble with. It was people like Kendra Wu, Jesselle Villegas, Jayvee De Castro, and Rachel that made me scratch my scalp. There were several times I had to stop reading to go back in the novel and figure out who these minor characters were.

And since we are on the topic of characters, I have to admit that many of them bordered on stereotypes. Jennifer’s writing was much stronger when she focused on holistic qualities of the characters, because it made them feel more like real human beings.

That being said, I think Holding Up the Universe deserves to be read. In these tumultuous times, we all need a little more empathy. Jennifer’s novel examines just how lovely and wanted all of us are—a message the world desperately needs.

Dark Metropolis, reading, writing, book, review, Jaclyn Dolamore, YA, fantasy, zombies, magic, religion, mythology

Cherished readers, I’ve written something new for you. My review for the Dark Metropolis series can now be found on the Teen Librarian Toolbox blog at the School Library Journal website. It is part of the #FSYALit project. I’d love to hear your feedback and I always appreciate it when you share my work. As always, thanks for reading!

Why I Don’t Review Everything I Read

reviews, writing, books, short stories, fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry

Let start with the obvious. There are some books that I am obligated to review because I received the book for free from a company. There are also some books I am assigned to review as an opportunity with a company that mostly displays content online.

That being said, there are many books, short stories, poems, creative nonfiction essays and memoirs, articles, news stories, etc. outside of my obligations that I read. I often read the content of certain literary magazines and journals to familiarize myself with the writing contained within—although there are a few I continue to read afterward, because I enjoy the content so much. Articles and news stories I generally read for information. Books, however, I almost always read for fun.

And yet, I will not review everything. There is a reason for this, obviously. Several, in fact—but I’ll just name a few for books.

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Book Review: Annihilation

novel, Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer, science, science-fiction, horror, environmental disaster, fictionA psychologist, an anthropologist, a biologist, and a surveyor walk into a bar…

Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Seriously, here’s the real review.

Names are unnecessary in Area X; a place where four women of varying professions and backgrounds go to research and map the terrain. They are part of the twelfth expedition. Narrated by the biologist—a loner whose husband was part of the eleventh expedition—the story takes us deep into a once human-occupied area now reclaimed by nature. It is uncertain what happened in this place. With a psychologist specializing in hypnosis, an anthropologist too kind for her own good, a skeptical ex-military surveyor, and a biologist with unending curiosity, Area X quickly becomes a place of real danger that threatens to annihilate them all.

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Book Review: Dualed

book, novel, trilogy, YA, action, dystopia, Elise Chapman, Dualed

West Grayer has a twin somewhere nearby, and that twin wants her dead. Although born of different parents, Grayer is the genetically matched alternate of some unknown girl that looks just like her. In a world where survival is the main priority, children must prove their superior strength and aptitude when activated, which means successfully killing their alternate. This is an attempt to cull the weak from society by members of The Board—the governing body controlling Grayer’s homeland. But when a tragedy occurs, Grayer must find another—controversial—method to survive the coming battle with her twin.

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Book Review: Umineko When They Cry Episode 1

art, book review, manga, Umineko When They Cry, reading, illustration, comics, Japanese, older teen, episode 1
Copyright Kei Natsumi and Ryukishio7

In 1986, Battler-san rejoins his extended family after six years of being apart at a reunion on a private island. Rokkenjima Island is not as it appears, however, and their trip begins with the ominous story of a witch named Beatrice that lurks in the forest. While Battler doesn’t believe in witches, he can’t shake the feeling that something is off upon their arrival. While his father and stepmother bicker with his aunts and uncles about his wealthy grandfather’s inheritance, Battler renews his familial bonds with his cousins. But there is an evil overshadowing everything. More and more evidence begins to point to the fact that Beatrice is real and that the portrait of her hanging in the mansion is not a figurative representation. That’s when the witch’s messenger delivers a letter and the real mystery, and horror, begins.

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Book Review: Thief of Glory

book copyright Sigmund Brouwer
book copyright Sigmund Brouwer

Young Jeremiah Prins begins his life in privilege in the Dutch East Indies. His family is affluent and served by the locals. All of this changes when the Japanese begin their imperial expansion and invade what is now known as Indonesia. Separated from his father and older brothers, Jeremiah takes charge of what is left of his family — his mother and younger siblings. The Japanese eventually round them up and put them in a jappenkamp where there is little food and little medical care. Jeremiah learns to find creative ways to take care of his family while waiting out what feels like an endless war. As more and more people die from lack of nutrition and disease, Jeremiah’s life becomes increasingly dangerous.

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Book Review: I Forgot How to Write When They Diagnosed Me

blackout poetry, poetry collection, poems, new book, copyright Emily Ramser
Copyright Emily Ramser

Emily Ramser’s new collection of poetry, I Forgot How to Write When They Diagnosed Mepublished by Weasel Press, is superb. Rarely is Erasure–or Blackout–poetry done so well. The compositions are woven together with agony and beauty, reality and mythology, the natural world and the supernatural world. The words are carefully chosen and pieced together, the other words blotted out with expressive swirls and strokes, to create a work of art on each page.

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Book (and Film) Review: Unbroken

novel, Unbroken, World War 2, WWII, nonfiction, Pacific, Book copyright Laura Hillenbrand
Book copyright Laura Hillenbrand

Louis Zamperini is a bit of a troublemaker. Okay, he’s quite the troublemaker. Growing up in Torrance, California in the home of a loving Italian family, Zamperini quickly gains a reputation for stealing, fighting, and general mischief making. It takes the intervention of his brother, Pete, to set him straight, which means running the course of the local track team. Over time, Zamperini grows to be so fast, he eventually qualifies for the olympics, which are held in Nazi Germany. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he joins the air force to fight this same country’s ally — the ruthless Japanese Imperial army. The following years of his life are filled with violence and tragedy, desperation and trauma, and finally — through his faith in God — redemption and forgiveness.

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Thanks to some of my fellow book loving family and friends, I received many books as gifts for Christmas. Their kindness has stocked me with many titles to read over the next year! I also supported some local bookstores — in my hometown and at a bookstore I used to work at in Lebanon, Ohio.

While not all of them are pictured, I wanted to share some of the exciting titles that were purchased and draw attention to their authors. Some of these books I will review on my blog.

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Book Review: All the Bright Places

Copyright Jennifer Niven, cover, All the Bright Places, YA, young adult, fiction, novel, book, Finch, Violet, mental illness, suicide
Copyright Jennifer Niven

When Theodore Finch climbs the steps of the bell tower to commit suicide, he does not expect to find Violet Markey standing on the ledge, also ready to end her life. It is here that they officially meet and both prevent each other from doing what they had planned to do. Their relationship quickly changes into something much more as the two of them discover each others’ secrets.

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Book Review: In the Meantime

Cover art copyright Mel.Ryon Photography and Designs, In the Meantime, Rowena Carenen, poems, poetry collection, book
Cover art copyright Mel.Ryon Photography and Designs

In the Meantime is a collection of poems written by Rowena Carenen and published by Neverland Publishing. Many of the poems are free verse, although there are a few that stick to a form. The subjects cover everything from the loss of cherished family members and friends, to romantic and family love, to personal trauma and triumph.

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Book Review: Everything I Never Told You

Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You, novel, book, fiction, book review
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Lydia dies at the bottom of a lake. Her parents, in shock, cannot accept her death. Her brother looks for a murderer. Her sister secretly hopes to be loved in her sister’s place.

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Book Review: The Orphan Master’s Son

A son of North Korea, named after the Revolutionary Martyrs, Pak Jun Do begins his life assisting his father at a work camp for orphans. His loyalty makes him a candidate for other dangerous jobs including being a tunnel soldier, kidnapping Japanese citizens, listening to encrypted military transmissions on the East Sea, and harassing a Texas senator. His goal is to survive and yet he finds himself inexplicably yearning for the affections of Sun Moon — the wife of a rival to Kim Jong Il. In a daring attempt to move away from the interests of the country, Pak Jun Do pursues a woman who is oblivious to oppression and cruelty.

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