Here’s how it goes: ‘ill’ protagonist + alienation (from family, school, life) + unlikely romance = bonanza bestseller. So, too, goes Jennifer Niven’s Holding Up the Universe, the YA story of Jack (‘illness’ is face-blindedness* + parents are getting separated + romance with Libby) and Libby (‘illness’ is being – and I quote – “America’s fattest teen” + she spent literal years in literal seclusion in her home + romance with Jack). The two are meant to teach us things about seeing one another for who we really are, and standing up to bullies, and loving what’s on the inside. And to be fair they do all this teaching in a relatively non-annoying way, but I was nevertheless annoyed. I think because it felt like such a recipe book plot and the characters seemed to young for their age (they’re meant to be 18? and begin their romantic encounter for the point of hypothetical hand holding?) and their moral conclusions too pat. Particularly the rendering of Libby as an empowered, body positive example of overcoming adversity and self-esteem (as an aside, I just started reading a book about self-compassion which creates a useful distinction between self-esteem and self-compassion that I think Libby could benefit from). The most interesting part about Libby is her father and we only get the faintest sketches of him as a full character.
Anyway. I wouldn’t tell you not to read this book, especially if you were about to get on a plane or sit on a beach all day. But I certainly wouldn’t urge it on you. And I definitely wouldn’t be buying it for a young adult. Or would I? I don’t know what young adults are like these days. Or any days really. I was hardly an ideal candidate for young adulthood. I DIGRESS.
Finally – just wanted to let you know that the guest posts will begin a bit sooner than planned. Blogging vacation arrives early in Ontario! So this will be my last post for a few weeks at least. Get excited for reviews from some of the fantastic readers of Literary Vice. Be good to them! Write comments (though you never write me any, so don’t write them *too* many or I’ll be hurt), submit your own review, etc. And it’s not too late to sign up for a guest review. Send me a note and I’ll add you to the lineup.
I’ll miss you. And who knows. Maybe I’ll surprise myself and everyone and call in from holiday with some posts.
*Aside: It seems kind of bananas to me that I read TWO YA novels about face blindness – the other being the (much better) Bone Gap by Laura Ruby). Calls out for some kind of Masters thesis on what’s going on with face blindness in YA literature.