Yes, you read that right.
Originally, this series was going to be called ‘Characters that didn’t/don’t tickle my pickle’ but I wanted to be able to speak a bit more broadly, ya feel? In this series, I am hoping to discuss books that were either incredibly hyped up and were disappointments, or problematic as fuck stories that make me questions the intelligence of people.
In this case, it’s the former.
Disclaimer, these are only just my opinions and I don’t come from an ‘evil’ space – just ranting out my thoughts.
What book is on the agenda?
Today’s book of rant is Jennifer Niven’s Holding Up The Universe. Now, I got this book in a YA book subscription box two years ago (The YA Chronicles, it’s amazing!) and I remember how happy I was! I only heard great things about Niven’s debut novel, All The Bright Places so I was excited to get into a new book of hers. Considering that Instragram literally hailed Niven as some-sort of master with the prose, I was expecting a wonderfully written story of real, flawed characters who find each other at a certain point in their lives and grow.
The novel centres upon the story of two teenagers, Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. Libby Strout’s character is focused on the fact that she was once known as ‘America’s Fattest Teen’. High School students are incredibly mean, and no one has seen Libby for who she is. Jack Masselin has prosopagnosia, which is a rare neurological disorder where Jack cannot recognise faces at all. He actually does not recognise his own face, which was an interesting in that the novel also attempted to portray the disassociation that can occur as a result. If you want more of a synopsis/blurb concerning Holding Up The Universe, you can read the Goodreads summary here.
Okay, so, let’s just talk about the characters for a minute. Both Libby and Jack had absolute no substance. Nada. Zilch. I’m not even exaggerating. It’s like Niven just wanted to write to characters that were completely and only defined by their issues and forced them to fall in love for absolute no reason. Libby could have been a fierce character – at her core, she was tackling fundamental issues of body image, obesity, bullying and mental health. In the beginning, I feel as though Niven was on the right track; Libby went through so much to get to where she was, and her relationship with her father was so beautiful. But, her entire ‘issue’ was that she wanted to find a boyfriend which resulted in the ‘how can anyone love me because of weight’. I found that this premise was weak and felt extremely superficial. Her character had no growth, but instead was quite stagnant and boring. She could have had so much going for her and thus, the character – but the focus on blindly finding a boyrfiend was just boring. And Jack?! EVEN WORSE.
There was absolutely no chemistry between Jack and Libby. It was so strange to the point of cringe. I didn’t like them together at all. For one, it tried the whole ‘Jack is the popular dude who isn’t like most and struggles and falls in love with Libby, the outcast’ and completely failed in execution. My main problem with this relationship was how Jack would constantly say ‘I think Libby’s beautiful even though she’s fat’ or ‘I love her even though she’s fat’ – Libby’s ‘fatness’ was written as an abnormality or a wrongness that then was portrayed that she was lucky that Jack was with her, in spite of her weight. Which was absoulety pathetic and is not an idea that should be perpetuated in YA fiction. BE LOVED FOR EVERYTHING THAT YOU ARE NOT IN SPITE OF, GOSH DARN IT.
It’s funny, because like, Jack’s character is much more a romantic one. He again brings nothing deep to the buffet. He has prosopagnosia, which would have been amazing if it was an absolutely ridiculous plot point. Jack can’t recognise faces, not even his own, but he can recognise Libby’s face because it’s lOOooooVvveEEeeeeeee.
Like really? Did Niven actually think that was a good idea for a plot point? To make A MEDICAL DIAGNOSIS PRATICALLY REDUNDANT BECAUSE LOVE FIXES EVERYTHING?!
I THOUGHT WE ALL AGREED THAT TROPE WOULD BE LEFT WHERE IT BELONGS,
IN THE BLOODY TRASH.
Although I do understand why people liked it – in that, in terms of representation, it was depicting characters with neurological and mental health issues and there’s the whole love thing, it just was not done appropriately or with any susbtance.
That is going to be it for today, friends.
I’m all ranted out.
If I’ve offended anyone, please please know that this is not coming from a bad space, just wanted to rant!
Until next time! Happy reading!
Lots of love,