I’ve been out of high school for quite a few years, but if you’re like me (or if you are currently immersed in the four years of social purgatory that is high school), then you know all too well the Molotov cocktail comprised of anxiety, experimentation, and fun (with a dash of paralyzing self-doubt mixed in) that is the high school experience. You want to blend in, but you also want to be appreciated for who you actually are.
But what do you do when who you really are is not what people SEE when they look at you?Holding up the Universe is a novel centering on two high school students, but the story is more, well… universal than that.
While part of the Young Adult genre, Niven’s Holding up the Universe is a book for adults too. Because how many of us can’t remember (and don’t still experience) the feeling that no one really knows us? That we are more than what people can see and judge with their eyes.
Libby is returning to school after emerging from the depths of grief and depression following her mother’s death. Having seen that life is more than just what happens in the hallways of her high school, Libby has doesn’t have any more room in her life for pretending to be someone she’s not. She’s well aware, however, that most people judge her based on what they see. In Libby’s words:
“The short version of the story is that my mom died and I got fat, but somehow I’m still here. …Tomorrow is my first day of school since fifth grade. My new title will be high school junior, which, let’s face it, sounds a lot better than America’s Fattest Teen. But it’s hard to be anything but TERRIFIED OUT OF MY SKULL.” (pg 8)
Jack Masselin seems like he’s got it all together. He’s athletic, he’s popular, and he has mastered the art of being cool in high school. But Jack has a secret that no one, not even his parents, know and he has to keep up the exhausting facade so that know one finds out.
“Do whatever it takes. Be lord of the douche. Anything to keep from being the prey. Always better to hunt than be hunted. I’m not telling you this as an excuse for what I’m about to do. But maybe you can keep it in mind. This is the only way to stop my friends from doing something worse, and it’s the only way to stop this stupid game. Just know that I don’t want to hurt anyone. That’s not why. Even though that’s the thing that’s going to happen.” (pg. 2)
Told from both Libby’s and Jack’s point of view in alternating chapters, this is a story with profound messages about who we all are underneath our skin and how we sometimes need to be blind to what’s right in front of us so we can make deeper connections with those around us.
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