On the very first page of Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven, main character Jack tells readers that he is about to do a very bad thing—something that will make everyone reading his letter hate him.
Later, we find out that that very bad thing is what Jack and his friends call “Fat Girl Rodeo.” While playing Fat Girl Rodeo, a teenage boy picks out a fat girl, wraps his arms around her, and holds on for as long as possible.
Enter Libby Strout. Libby has been called “America’s Fattest Teen,” and most people at her school know her as the girl who had to be cut out of her house.
Characters in Holding Up the UniverseHolding Up the Universe
Meet the main characters in Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven:
- Libby Strout: Formerly “America’s Fattest Teen.” Libby hasn’t been to school since fifth grade, but after losing more than 300 pounds, Libby is ready to head back to school and take on the world.
- Jack Masselin: A popular high school senior with a condition known as face-blindness. As in, he can’t recognize the closest people in his life, including his parents and siblings—and no one knows it. Yet, for some reason, he can recognize and actually see Libby Strout and her features. She’s the only one. When it comes to everyone else, Jack uses memorized cues to recognize people.
About Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
Libby, it seems has become the most coveted fat girl in the Fat Girl Rodeo. According to Jack’s best friend, if someone can hang on to Libby, he wins the game. Jack and his friends don’t know it, but as it turns out, Libby is the perfect person to end the fat girl rodeo competition. Sure, Libby is the biggest girl in the school, but she’s also likely the only girl who can handle the scrutiny that comes along with her size.
After she’s attacked by Jack, Libby and Jack are both sent to community service and detention, and as they spend more time with one another, Jack learns that Libby isn’t the person he expected: She’s much, much better. As the pair get to know one another, it becomes obvious that Jack has a very serious and unique problem of his own, and Libby Strout could be the only one who can help him overcome his condition.
Why Read Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven is an extremely relatable book—everyone wants to be loved and everyone wants to fit in, for example—but that’s not what makes this story so amazing. Jack’s personal growth throughout the story is impressive, but that’s not what makes this story so great, either.
No, instead, the best part of Holding Up the Universe is Libby’s absolute refusal to change. Libby is bigger than everyone else, and after the fat girl rodeo, she’s the butt of infinite jokes. But that doesn’t matter to Libby, because Libby knows who she is, and Libby is comfortable in her skin. She’s proud and she’s positive and she knows which direction she’s headed in life. Also, Libby is smart and she’s funny—really, really funny.
Frankly, we all want to be Libby Strout.
And that—that desire to be someone better, to be comfortable in our own skin in the face of adversity—is what makes this book so great. In one way or another, everyone can see themselves in Libby Strout, and everyone can see themselves striving to BE Libby Strout, extra weight and all.