The first Jennifer Niven book I´ve ever read. Okay, the cover of the German edition isn´t really mine - way too much pink and too naïve in its sketch – but during reading, I am not really seeing all that. But, to be honest, if I wouldn´t have won it, I probably wouldn´t have bought it. And to be honest, I am not sure if I will read her books again. You want to know why? Then keep reading *smile* Despite the fact, that the cover doesn´t fit my taste at all, this book started out as a great one. A fabulous female main character, a gorgeous writing style, and a story that was so fluently to read that I literally turned the page like nothing.

Holding Up The Universe*
by Jennifer Niven
Publisher Penguin on October 4, 2016
Genre Novel
Pages 400
Format Softcover
Source Lovelybooks

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 things 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 reengineer 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.
Libby is a smart, lovely girl who knows what she wants and who is in constant sorrow about the things that could happen anytime without any warning. But she isn´t the type who lets her constant sorrows and fears dictate her how to live. Those times are over. Definitely. But going back to school, facing the cruelty other teenagers show towards her without any reason and the hate she faces only because she is who she is isn´t easy to deal with. And then there is Jack. The guy who is different, too. In a totally different way. 

The moment I read how Libby thinks about her life, how she is asking great questions about why others do to her what they do, I fell in love with her. She is a fantastic young girl and sees everything from a different perspective. By switching between Libby and Jack from chapter to chapter, you get to know both sides. How a young man thinks and feels about various things, and how a young girl sees the world. The language is simple, easy to understand, and written in a smooth and nice to read way. You can´t stop turning the pages. 

But for whatever reason after about the first half of the book, everything changes. The characters are still wonderful, Libby stays the same, only the rest shows a new face. The story becomes shallow, there is a lot of clichés to find and it seems as if Jennifer Niven has needed material to stretch her book to a certain number of pages. My fascination vanished into the air and the only reason I finished this book with an average rating was because of Libby.

The figures are all dealing with some sort of problem. There is a little gay boy whose bullied only because of his taste, a woman who isn´t only struggling with her husband´s illness but also with her marriage, the overweight girl who wants Libby to move every bad thing out of her way, to fight her fights for her and a cowardly acting husband. And, of course, Libby and Jack.

Libby has been through hell and back and knows now that life is the most precious thing we have. She does everything she needs to, to stay alive, to lose weight, and to be an active part of her life outside the walls of a house. The way she faces and deals with all the hate and fear her classmates show her is simply extraordinary. Though it hurts her, she stays positive, hits back in the only imaginable way without hurting the others physically as they hurt her. She will never understand why others call her a slug or see fat equal slug. Or why her classmates believe that they can treat her every way they want but don´t concede her that right to treat them back the same way. 

Or Jack. He is handsome, smart, and knows obviously to tell everyone exactly what they want to hear. He uses his charm like a weapon and covers his disease with every trick he knows. Everybody loves him, thinks he is sketchy and his word is almost like the law. But the moment he tells the truth about himself, the crowd bursts into laughter, and nobody is taken him seriously.

If the novel would have been over the second half like the first half had been, this would have been clearly a five-star read. No doubt, the romance between Libby and Jack is one of a kind and wonderfully brought to paper. But the rest became a stereotype and took a lot of the energy the book has shown at first. Sad, but in my eyes less would have been more in this case.

Happy reading

Deutsche Rezension

Der Roman ist zu Beginn ein bisschen wie ein Tagebuch gehalten. Da gibt es Listen und Briefe von Jack und Libby teilt ihre Vergangenheit ein Stück weit mit dem Leser. Dabei springt die Geschichte in der Zeit vor und zurück. Mal ein paar Stunden, mal ein paar Wochen, mal ein paar Jahre. Dadurch bekommt der Roman von der ersten Seite an ein unglaublich zügiges Lesetempo und der frische Schreibstil der Autorin tut ein Übriges, den Leser rasch und mit viel Charme in die Handlung zu bringen. Leider bricht der Roman nach circa der Hälfte plötzlich buchstäblich weg. Es wird etwas kitschig, viele Passagen scheinen als Streckmaterial zu dienen und so manches erscheint etwas weit hergeholt bzw. wirkt unrealistisch. Gemessen am Beginn, der absolut realistisch dargestellt ist. Die Mitschüler sind grausam, der Gruppenzwang ist allgegenwärtig und die Direktorin der High-School waltet ihres Amtes.

Keine Frage, zwei starke Themen - Prosopagnosie und Übergewicht – werden hier auf äußerst feinfühlige und sensible Art aufgezeigt, beschrieben und mit all ihren Konsequenzen und Folgen dargestellt. Aber irgendwann habe ich mir die Frage gestellt, warum Jack Libby davon erzählt hat, obwohl er sie überhaupt nicht kennt. Zumindest zu dem Zeitpunkt noch nicht, als er ihr das per Brief sagt. Denn im Gegensatz zu ihm geht Libby mit ihrem starken Übergewicht offen und direkt um. Und das war weit glaubwürdiger als sein Herumgeeiere mit seinen Eltern.

Libby ist eine Wucht. Im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes. Und das ist jetzt nicht negativ gemeint. Sie hat eine grandiose Art mit dem Hass und den Anfeindungen ihrer Mitmenschen umzugehen. Einfach nur toll. Und was sie sich für Gedanken mach, warum ihre Mitschüler so und nicht anders auf sie reagieren, warum alle immer denken Fett gleich Schlampe, um noch das harmlosere zu nennen, das haut einen wirklich um.

Im Großen und Ganzen kann man sagen, dass die Autorin durchaus ein Händchen für die Erschaffung von Figuren hat. Gut, irgendwann geht es einem etwas auf den Geist, dass Jack sich seiner Familie gegenüber so verhält, wie er es tut und dass der Vater das macht, was er macht. Aber hey, nicht jeder scheint eine Familie zu haben, wo man die Dinge ansprechen und vor allem aussprechen kann oder darf. Traurig, aber wahr.

Das war das erste Buch von der Autorin, dass ich gelesen habe. Gut, die optische Aufmachung ist jetzt nicht so meins, aber das kann man ignorieren. Wer auf eine romantische Geschichte mit etwas seichten Passagen und viel Streckmaterial steht und nichts dagegen hat, dass der Roman nicht nur von einer starken Protagonistin, sondern auch buchstäblich einigen großen Missverständnissen lebt, der ist hier dann bestens bedient. Für mich war er ab der Hälfte zwar noch lesbar, aber auch zu vorhersehbar und dass viele Fragen unbeantwortet bzw. vieles überhaupt offen blieb das hat mich dann doch etwas gestört.

*I read the German edition new release by Fischer Sauerländer on June 22, 2017, as a participant of a reading challenge. The cover you can see at the end of this review.

Jennifer Niven
Jennifer Niven ©Louis Kapeleris

Jennifer Niven grew up in Indiana and now lives with her fiancé and literary cats in Los Angeles, which remains her favorite place to wander. Her true passion is writing, though she has always wanted to be a Charlie´s Angel. Her first young adult novel All the Bright Places has so far spent over thirty weeks as a New York Times bestseller, and foreign rights have sold to forty-one foreign territories. It was the GoodReads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction of 2015 and named as Best Book of the Year by Time Magazine among others.


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