When the Exploitation Network is More Classy: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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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 thinks 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 re-engineer and rebuild anything, 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.

Source: GoodReads

A few years ago, a coworker recommended that I watch My 600 Lb Life. I was a little dubious about watching it because it was on the exploitation channel (aka TLC) but after some constantly pestering I decided to watch an episode and was pretty much horrified with I saw.  Like I thought, TLC exploited the situation for what it’s worth.  But unfortunately, by watching some of these episodes (mostly, when I was halfway asleep) I did learn a couple things enough that when I read Holding Up the Universe my eyes almost did a complete revolution in rolling  because it was so God offensive and awful on so many levels.

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First of all, if you are easily triggered do NOT read this shit.  It’s probably the most offensive book I’ve read featuring an overweight protagonist after My Big Fat Disaster and that one book I read from the 80’s where the character develops an eating disorder after lots and lots of body shaming (I think the title had “Big Fat Blimp” in it, but I couldn’t find anything when I searched on GoodReads so maybe title forgotten is best).  And the only reason its not as offensive as those books is that the main character does not attempt self harm.

Still though, even there’s no suicide attempt or grotesque depiction of an eating disorder, this book is pretty offensive.  There’s a whole twenty page sequence about how a crane is used to remove then 600 pound something Libby from her home.

Okay.

That is way melodramatic especially considering you can watch a couple of episodes from the exploration show and see plenty of 600 + pounders get out of houses  that aren’t as near as fancy as Libby’s.  PLUS if you watch the expoitation show, or really do any sort of research about morbidly obese people it takes years to get that heavy with a very high caloric intake.  And for that matter, changing someone’s lifestyle like Libby seemingly did is not that easy.

Hell, Libby eats pizza at one point in the novel and I’m just cringing because I know it has to be against her diet but it’s fluffed over.  Also, Niven only says that Libby went to a couple of fat camps to lose weight and leaves it there.  We don’t have the discussion of weight loss surgery, which I’m sure has to be at least a consideration in this case and really other than some bullying and Libby’s mother dying, we aren’t really given any insight in what drove her to over eat or what sort of methods she learned to cope with it. Hell, the excess skin that I’m sure Libby has from losing 200 + pounds isn’t even addressed.  Sure,  I guess there’s a creepy counselor-ish character who comes off more as Libby’s b.f.f. than counselor but come on…that’s the only

Also, I HATED the fact that the father’s role as an enabler was diminished. Libby makes excuses for him, that he didn’t know she was eating all that crap she had hidden in her room but considering the caloric intake that she had to have to maintain and add to that weight, considering she was house bound for six months, Dad was accountable at some level.  I’m sorry…

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Also, in addition to pretty much dramatizing Libby’s weight, Libby is just not a likable protagonist.  She’s prickly, borderline annoyingly mean, and quite honestly she’s one of those people who will not take responsibility for her actions.  Also, she suffers from YA heroines who quote from classical literature way too much and makes me want to deck her in the face.  I know that not being likable is arguably a part of being  a teen, but here’s the thing there could be bits and pieces of her that I liked while still being annoyed with her.  Also, cease with The To Kill a Mockingbird quoting already.  I like that book too, but I don’t go quoting around it even when I was a precocious teen.

The other main lead, Jack, is a big douche.  There’s no other way to describe him.  Niven tries to use his face blindness as an excuse for how he acts and what he does, but it doesn’t work.  Also, I found it laughable throughout the entire thing that no one in his whole family ever picks up on the fact that he has face blindness or that when he fell of that roof which was the cause of his injury that the doctors didn’t run an MRI and pick up on the brain damage.

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I’m just saying.

While the main leads were annoying, I think what bothered me about this one the most was that there was something “after school special” about it.  What I mean by this, is it just seems that the two leads are thrown to teach some big lesson and that the only way that Niven can justify that the two of them are even together is that they both have “issues”.

Personally, I could not find myself getting into this ship.  The fact that the so called hero meets the heroine when he pretty much assaults her just makes the whole ship have nasty feels throughout the entire time.  The fact that they are forced to attend useless counseling sessions that come out of a mid 90’s movie together even further the feeling of this nastiness.  The fact that the narrative constantly goes into questioning whether the Jerkwad lead could fall in love with a heavy set protagonist made me want to clobber someone.

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This book is just not healthy when it comes to relationships in general and like I said I cringe at the thought of a teenager reading this.  It’s NOT good for body image and it does not give a healthy view on what a healthy relationship requires.

Even those flashbacks where Jack creepily goes into Libby’s house after a crane (I am not even going to go into detail again about how ridiculous those fucking scenes were)  that are supposed to humanize him just make him feel like even more like a creeper.

I’m sorry, me no likey.

I can’t find any justifiable reason to recommend this one to anyone.  It’s trigger inducing. The romance is forced.  Sure, the face blindness seems like it would be something interesting to explore, but at the end of the day it really was more or less a justification to get the so called popular guy to like the heavy girl.  And no, it didn’t work it just cheapened this already horrible book.

Overall Rating: F as in fail.

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