Goodreads Choice Award · Reviews

“Holding Up the Universe” by Jennifer Niven

“I know. I get it. It’s easy to give everyone what they want. What’s expected. The problem with doing this is you lose sight of where you truly begin and where the fake you, the one who tries to be everything to everyone, ends.”

Libby Strout and Jack Masselin are two teenagers trying to make sense of the world, trying to recognize themselves for who they are and not for the shadow they cast. While Libby seems not to know how to be anyone but herself, Jack seems to survive on exactly the opposite, on being everyone but himself, at least when in public. A bad decision born from a good intention brings them together and they find themselves in each other.

“My mom used to say sometimes it’s actually about the other person and you just happen to be there. Like sometimes the other person needs to learn a lesson or go through an experience, good or bad, and you’re just an accessory in some way, like a supporting actor in whatever their scene happens to be.”

I would say that Holding Up the Universe is, first and foremost, a novel about navigating and surviving the world of expectations, a novel about growing into our own skin amongst people who keep trying to mold us into being what they think of us, what they want and need us to be. A novel about dreaming, I would call it, about waking up and still wanting to leave the bed. A novel about hope.

I must confess I was rather nervous because of how much All the Bright Places meant to me – oh, hello there expectations. I needed not to worry though. Jennifer Niven delivered yet another beautifully written story that has the reader bonding with the characters over their scars, their fears, their wishes, dreams and desires, over trying to survive in a society that wants to label them and chain them to particular boxes, categories. I love how this connection finds roots in everything but pity.

“It’s been my experience that the people who are most afraid are the ones who hide behind mean and threatening words.”

I think this novel is beyond relevant, but recent events have made it even more so. Fear has had a supporting role since the beginning of times, and all through History, but lately it seems almost as if the script has been revised and fear has been promoted to the main character. Instead of helping the world take a step forward, it seems to have it taking a step back, creating distance, spreading an avoidance policy that has hatred filling the void.

“She believed that situations and people were almost never black-and-white.”

At the end of the day we are all human. Everything is a matter of perspective and we have a say in how we look at things, from where we try to comprehend them, we have a choice. It’s not always easy to open our eyes, to refuse to be led by hurt. We can’t forget though that words have no inherent meaning, we are the ones to give them power. While we have to teach people to think before speaking, we also have to learn how to listen.

“How can something so final happen in an instant? No preparation. No warning. No chance to do all the things you planned to do. No chance to say goodbye.”

I would say that Holding Up the Universe is a novel about love, yes. Not just about finding, recognizing, people who love you, but also about learning to love yourself.

P.S. I didn’t want to address the girl-needs-boy-for-validation narrative that could be seen here, but I think perhaps I should. Libby never said she needed a boy, but she wants love, she wants company and understanding. Who are we to judge her? As long as it makes her happy and doesn’t have her attacking anyone…

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