A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Holding Up the Universe deals frankly with fat-shaming, bullying, depression, and peer pressure. It's another patient, emotionally complex story by author Jennifer Niven (All the Bright Places). Her two teen heroes both have difficult histories: Libby's mother died unexpectedly, and Libby, who is white, is terrified of dying herself. Jack, who is biracial, is full of secrets: that he has a disorder that makes even loved ones unrecognizable, and that his father, in remission from cancer, has been carrying on an affair with a teacher at Jack's school. There's frank talk about sexual attraction and desire, and there's some making out, frequent strong language (including "f--k" and "s--t"), and some drinking and drug use. It's a harsh but clear-eyed look at what's on the mind of teens, and messages of resilience, courage, and joy shine through.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE follows the relationship that grows between Libby Strout and Jack Masselin, two teens who meet because of a vicious bullying "game" that lands them in group counseling. Libby, who became known as "American's Fattest Teen" when she had to be cut out of her home, is returning to school after years away mourning her mother and tending to her own health. Jack is hiding the fact he can't recognize faces, not even his own, so he overcompensates by trying to be the life of the party. To protect himself, he ends up making Libby a target for bullies. But Libby can stand her ground, and her confidence, enthusiasm, and hope make Jack take a long, hard look at his own choices.
Is it any good?
This unflinching look at courage in the face of bullying is unforgettable, primarily for its remarkable heroine: She's fierce, funny, and absolutely done with being mocked and targeted for her size. Libby and her counterpart, Jack, take turns telling their story in Holding Up the Universe: Both speak intimately and honestly, confronting difficult truths about themselves and the people they're closest to. Despite their unique circumstances, the struggles they face -- to be seen, to be heard, to be respected, to be given room to be themselves -- are universal.
Libby, Jack, and his brother Dusty are remarkably self-aware, empathic, and considerate -- almost overly so. Teen readers might find these characters rather unrealistic in their frank courage, but odds are they'll be adopted as inspirational heroes. This is a terrific book for encouraging teens to be their own wonderful selves.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about integrity in Holding Up the Universe and why Jack sometimes acts against his better judgment. Is it hard to maintain integrity in the face of social media and peer pressure?
Do you feel that your friends, family, classmates, and strangers see you the way you want to be seen?
Is it "better to hunt than be hunted"?
- Author: Jennifer Niven
- Genre: Friendship
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: October 4, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 400
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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