Libby Strout, one of two main characters in Jennifer Niven’s book ‘Holding Up the Universe,” was once known as “American’s Fattest Teen” and was so big they had to cut a hole in her house to get her out. Imagine a student in your school who comes back after several years of home school, during which this extrication took place on national TV for all to see.
Niven captures the moment so well from the point of view of Libby, and also gives a hyper-realistic look at the other student’s reactions to her. Needless to say, the bullying is heartbreaking.
My internal thoughts of “what would you have done” were laid bare when, referencing two characters in the book, my wife flat-out asked: “Which of these boys would you have been?” The question is one we should all ask ourselves.
Jack Masselin is the other main character in the book. On the outside, Jack has it all going on. So as not to divulge any spoilers let’s just say Jack has issues of his own. Issues no one can see because of his philosophy: “Be charming, be hilarious, don’t get too close to anyone.” These are the students who are so good at “playing school” that no one knows their pain.
You will have to read the book to get the rest. “Goodreads” gives it five stars. I simply couldn’t put it down. My wife complains about our shared Kindle and audible library being all war books and scary thrillers; I have been trying to expand my horizons. My niece suggested this one. It’s not about history and it’s not scary; unless you have ever been a victim of a bully. Which means it is all about history and it is scary for pretty much everyone.
The October 11 edition of the New York Times Magazine included an article titled “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering from Severe Anxiety?” One could ask more provincial question: Why is Kansas’ suicide rate 25 percent higher than the national average? These questions have no easy answers, and the problems have no easy solutions. Reading and discussing “Holding up the Universe” would be a good place to start learning the lesson that everyone is fighting a battle, even if we can’t understand it.
If you are an educator I recommend you read this book. Student’s in our schools struggle for so many reasons beyond academics. A wise person once said everyone we meet is a mirror. This book provides us with a mirror in which we can see the pain and joy of being a teenager.