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!

Another Important Discussion for Diversifying Literature: Religion in YA

While reading the article “How to (Effectively) Show Support” by Dahlia Adler, I noticed a very curious link under point three of the article titled “Promote other people’s promotions.” It was a discussion of religious young adult books spearheaded by Karen Jensen and Ally Watkins in the School Library Journal. At first I was so excited by this possibility of discussion in religion that I almost didn’t believe it to be real.

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Book Review: Stitching Snow

Stitching Snow, book, YA, science fiction, sci-fi, fairy tale retelling, Snow White

(Author Note: I was going to have this posted yesterday, but my internet went down and I couldn’t figure out how to get it back up until late last night. Anyway, here it is now!)

Essie survives on the cold, isolated planet of Thanda by making herself useful. She builds and “stiches” codes for drones that make mining on the planet safer for everyone. Seemingly happy with her lonely lifestyle, Essie is unprepared for the day a young man from Garam crash lands his shuttle on Thanda. The arrival of this stranger eventually sets off a chain of events that forces her to confront all of the darkness that lurks in her past.

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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: Sister’s Red

Jackson Pearce, Sister's Red, fairy tale, little red riding hood

Scarlett and Rosie March hunt the creatures known as Fenris–werewolves with voracious appetites–since the death of their beloved grandmother. The same Fenris that devoured their grandmother also left Scarlett with ugly scars all over her body. Accompanied by Scarlett’s partner, Silas, the trio kill the dangerous, blood-thirsty creatures relentlessly. But a foreboding message about a new werewolf has the trio temporarily moving out of the small town of Ellison and into Atlanta. Surrounded by new dangers and mysteries, Silas and the March sisters must work together to prevent the deaths of more young women.

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Book Review: The Cure for Dreaming

The Cure for Dreaming, review by L. N. Holmes, YA, feminist, fiction, magical realism, Book copyright Cat Winters
Book copyright Cat Winters

Olivia lives with her controlling father after her mother abandoned them to pursue her passions and dreams. On Olivia’s birthday she goes to see the show of a hypnotist and ends up being hypnotized herself. Others take notice of her susceptibility to persuasion. Her father hires the hypnotist to “cure” Olivia’s dreams and independent nature so that she will not leave him too. The hypnotist obliges but gives her a frightening ability instead — to see the world as it truly is for men and women. While frightening monsters take the place of people she has always known, an even curiouser occurrence takes place. Hired to strip her of her freedom, Olivia’s new vision does not reveal the hypnotist to be a monster.

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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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YA Book Vloggers That Make Being a Nerd (Kinda) Cool

Epic Reads Book Nerd of the Year nominees, The Book Shimmy Awards
Epic Reads Book Nerd of the Year nominees

Okay, so personally, as a book nerd, I’ve always found myself to be pretty cool. My sister would tell you otherwise, bless her soul. As much as I love my sister (which by the way, I love her A LOT), I feel that labels are versatile things and may be positive or negative depending on how the person feels about said label.

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Artist Interview and Giveaway: Angela Scott

Angela Scott, Anyone?, Evolved Publishing, author, YA, Young Adult, books, novels

Copyright Angela Scott


L. N. Holmes: “Where is your hometown?”
Angela Scott: “My hometown is Farmington, Utah, and I live on the benches of the Wasatch Mountains. I love it.”


L. N. Holmes: “What is your chosen artistic profession?”
Angela Scott: “Writer. I love to write. I love all things artistic, but writing is probably the only artistic thing of which I’m half-decent, though I can draw a pretty mean-looking stick figure and I can finger paint like no other. ”

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A Handful of Interesting Book-ish Contests

stack of books, By eady (Open Clip Art Library image's page) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Clipart by eady.

Fans are the lifeblood of an author’s career. As a writer, I can honestly say that I am grateful for every single fan that supports me and/or other authors. So as an act of appreciation, here are a few contests specifically for fans and book lovers. Please remember to do your own research before submitting personal information to any contest, sweepstakes, giveaway, etc.

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Short Story Review: ‘The Last Day’

Diverse Energies, short story, short story reviews, collection of short stories, Ellen Oh

The world has been in a state of constant war for over a decade. All that remains are the lands won by the President of the West and the Emperor of the East. Kenji lives in a city controlled by the Emperor and his cronies — a place that conscripts children into the army at the age of fourteen.

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The Genre Debate and Why it (Does)n’t Matter

Legend, The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games, California, Black Moon, Station Eleven, novel, book, novels, books, dystopian
Copyright L. N. Holmes (LeeAnn Adams)

Many have heard of the genre versus literary fiction debate. It’s old news — not even news. So why should we still be interested in it?

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Alice, Madness, and ’22 Horrible Crimes Committed Against the English Language’

Copyright L. N. Holmes (or LeeAnn Adams)
Copyright L. N. Holmes (or LeeAnn Adams)

After reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — the original by Lewis Carroll — I am convinced that Alice is the maddest character of them all. She disrupts the fragile order of Wonderland with her invasion, first off. Then she insults or says completely insensitive things to the residents. She also likes to show off her own knowledge, which gives her a pompous attitude despite her attempts to be polite. Like a child, she is temperamental and just as tyrannical as the Queen of Hearts. Worst of all, she has a tendency to act like Godzilla every time she changes to a frightening height.

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