Libby If a genie popped out of my bedside lamp, I would wish for these three things: my mom to be alive, nothing bad or sad to ever happen again, and to be a member of the Martin Van Buren High School Damsels, the best drill team in the tristate area. But what if the Damsels don't want you? It is 3:38 a.m., and the time of night when my mind starts running around all wild and out of control, like my cat, George, when he was a kitten. All of a sudden, there goes my brain, climbing the curtains. There it is, swinging from the bookshelf. There it is, with its paw in the fish tank and its head underwater. I lie on my bed, staring up into the dark, and my mind bounces across the room. What if you get trapped again? What if they have to knock down the cafeteria door or the bathroom wall to get you out? What if your dad gets married and then he dies and you're left with the new wife and stepsiblings? What if you die? What if there is no heaven and you never see your mom again? I tell myself to sleep. I close my eyes and lie very still. Very still. For minutes. I make my mind lie there with me and tell it, Sleep, sleep, sleep. What if you get to school and realize that things are different and kids are different, and no matter how much you try, you will never be able to catch up to them? I open my eyes. My name is Libby Strout. You've probably heard of me. You've probably watched the video of me being rescued from my own house. At last count, 6,345,981 people have watched it, so there's a good chance you're one of them. Three years ago, I was America's Fattest Teen. I weighed 653 pounds at my heaviest, which means I was approximately 500 pounds overweight. I haven't always been fat. The short version of the story is that my mom died and I got fat, but somehow I'm still here. This is in no way my father's fault. Two months after I was rescued, we moved to a different neighbor-hood on the other side of town. These days I can leave the house on my own. I've lost 302 pounds. The size of two entire people. I have around 190 left to go, and I'm fine with that. I like who I am. For one thing, I can run now. And ride in the car. And buy clothes at the mall instead of special-ordering them. And I can twirl. Aside from no longer being afraid of organ failure, that may be the best thing about now versus then. 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. I wait for the panic attack to come. Jack Caroline Lushamp calls before my alarm goes off, but I let her go to voice mail. I know whatever it is, it's not going to be good and it will be my fault. She calls three times but only leaves one message. I almost delete it without listening, but what if her car broke down and she's in trouble? This is, after all, the girl I've dated off and on for the past four years. (We're that couple. That on-again, off-again everyone-assumes-we'll-end-up-together-forever couple.) Jack, it's me. I know we're taking a break or whatever but she's my cousin. My COUSIN. I mean, MY COUSIN, JACK! If you wanted to get back at me for breaking up with you, then congratulations, jerkwad, you've done it. If you see me in class today or in the hallways or in the cafeteria or ANYWHERE ELSE ON EARTH, do not talk to me. Actually, just do me a favor and go to hell. Three minutes later, the cousin calls, and at first I think she's crying, but then you can hear Caroline in the background, and the cousin starts yelling and Caroline starts yelling. I delete the message. Two minutes later, Dave Kaminski sends a text to warn me that Reed Young wants to kick my face in for making out with his girlfriend. I text, I owe you. And I mean it. If I'm keeping score, Kam's helped me out more times than I've helped him. All this fuss over a girl who, if we're being honest, looked so much like Caroline Lushamp that--at least at first--I thought it was her, which means in some weird way Caroline should be flattered. It's like admitting to the world that I want to get back together with her even though she dumped me the first week of summer so that she could go out with Zach Higgins. I think of texting this to her, but instead I turn off my phone and close my eyes and see if I can't transport myself right back into July. The only thing I had to worry about then was going to work, scavenging the local scrap yard, building (mind-blowing) projects in my (kick-ass) workshop, and hanging out with my brothers. Life would be so much easier if it was just Jack + scrap yard + kick-ass workshop + mind-blowing projects. You should never have gone to the party. You should never have had a drink. You know you can't be trusted. Avoid alcohol. Avoid crowds. Avoid people. You only end up pissing them off. Excerpted from Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
New York Times Review
|In Yoon's second young adult novel (after the best-selling "Everything, Everything"), true love and physics combine. Daniel is a Korean-American teenager en route to a college interview. Though he dreams of becoming a poet, he feels it's his family duty to go to medical school. Natasha is a Jamaican girl who relies on science, and who's about to be deported. Yoon weaves brief narratives from bit players (an immigration lawyer in love with his paralegal, a just-barely-hanging-on security guard, a grieving drunken driver who almost runs down Natasha) and interstitial entries on topics like "Hair: An African-American History" into the overarching love story between Daniel and Natasha. They meet by chance one morning and find their worlds transformed by the end of the day. "The Sun Is Also a Star" is an enormous undertaking: an eclectic dictionary mashed up with "Romeo and Juliet" and the '90s rom-com "One Fine Day." But Yoon grounds everything in Daniel and Natasha's instant, vital connection (throughout the day they spend together they adorably employ the "36 questions to bring about love") and the conundrum that follows when they realize the universe has brought them together only to part them. It's a deep dive into love and chance and self-determination - and the many ways humans affect one another, often without even knowing it. THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES By Mindy McGinnis 341 pp. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, $17.99. (Young adult; ages 14 and up) Your heart may still be pounding after you've finished this book. It is uncannily well timed to our current political situation and the outcry over the culture of normalized sexual violence, perfectly calibrated for letting people know what it's like to walk through society as a woman now - worrying about who might be following you, being careful not to drink something that might have been tainted by someone trying to take advantage. Alex Craft is a killer, but not because she wants to be. The animals she tends to at her local animal shelter would agree; so would her friend Peekay (for "Preacher's Kid"), and so would the popular-jock-with-a-heart Jack, the boy who can't help loving her. It's because in a world that has taken away Alex's older sister - who was raped and murdered by a man in their small town who was never convicted - she had to take matters into her own hands. Friendships and relationships ensue as the three head full-throttle into their adult lives. But a threat hangs over everyone. McGinnis, who dedicates her book to "the victims," examines this dichotomy of hope and violence, love and hate, with dexterity and grace. WHAT LIGHT By Jay Asher 251 pp. Razorbill, $18.99. (Young adult; ages 13 and up) Teenagers often lead divided lives. Some split time between parents and towns, or flit in and out of groups, sharing only the parts of themselves presumed to fit in each. For Sierra, a dual existence is a holiday tradition. Each year after Thanksgiving her family leaves their Christmas tree farm in Oregon, hauling trees to a lot in California to sell. For a month, Sierra's home is a trailer on the lot. She's reunited with a childhood friend, and she tries to ignore her flirtatious male co-workers . At the end of December, the family heads home, and the cycle starts anew. Except this year could be the last, for financial reasons. And then there's Caleb, a guy with a violent past whom, despite warnings from those around her, Sierra falls for. Asher's debut, "Thirteen Reasons Why," was a best seller for nearly a decade. "What Light" has been around just as long in concept, and it harks back to a simpler time of young adult storytelling, with its linear first-person narrative (just one!) and classic themes of forgiveness, hope and the power of true love. Even Caleb's violence feels innocent compared with acts of his peers in recent novels. But as with holiday traditions, there's something beautiful about a novel done the old way, particularly when there's enough heart to make you weep. HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE By Jennifer Niven 391 pp. Knopf, $17.99. (Young adult; ages 13 and up) What happens when a boy who can't recognize faces sees one he can't ignore? What happens when that face belongs to a girl formerly known as "America's Fattest Teen," a girl who had to be cut out of her home when, after her mother's death, she became too fat to leave it? Libby Strout weighs 351 pounds, down from 653. Returning to high school as a junior, she meets Jack, a master at fitting in, who has a secret: He has prosopagnosia, which means that every time he sees a face (including his girlfriend's and his mom's), it's new to him. He uses identifiers like ears that stick out to keep track of whom he's supposed to know. In the wake of a cruel prank, Jack reveals his face blindness to Libby. They end up in school counseling together, slowly connecting. Niven ("All the Bright Places") alternates between Jack's perspective and Libby's, ricocheting forward and backward in time. Whether the pair can be together is the question propelling the book - pretty standard fare, but Niven is adept at creating characters, and at saving the book's sight-and-blindness messaging from being cloying. Libby has survived not only her mother's death but also ridicule that would fell most adults, and her courage and body-positivity make for a joyful reading experience. Jack, a boy who desperately wants to see and finds himself able to do so in ways he didn't expect, provides a worthy counterpart. GIRL MANS UP By M-E Girard 373 pp. HarperTeen/HarperCollins, $17.99. (Young adult; ages 14 and up) "There are four of us dudes sitting here right now, and I kick all of their butts when it comes to video games - and I'm not even a dude," says Pen (for Penelope) Oliveira in Girard's debut novel. Her status as one of the guys means she's expected to help reel in hot girls for her best friend, Colby, an act she justifies because "maybe someday, when I finally man up, one of these girls could end up liking me instead." Pen knows who she is - the problem is other people. "I don't feel wrong inside myself," she explains. But her traditional Portuguese mom and dad criticize her for dressing like a "punk druggie" and lament that she has cut off her long hair. Strangers mock or menace her. Colby and the guys use and abuse her. Only her older brother, Johnny, truly gets her. Then she meets Blake, who is as interested in Pen as Pen is in her, and Olivia, Colby's ex-girlfriend, who listens without judgment and needs Pen's help. In them, Pen finds firmer ground to be herself. Girard's novel is compulsively readable, by turns wrenching and euphoric. Pen is an inspiration to anyone who's struggled to be understood, and a vital addition to the growing world of genderqueer protagonists. RANI PATEL IN FULL EFFECT By Sonia Patel 314 pp. Cinco Puntos, $11.95. (Young adult; ages 14 and up) One evening in 1991, 16-year-old Rani Patel, the only Gujarati Indian teenager on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, catches her father and a "barely out-of-adolescence home wrecker, making out." Her reaction is a gesture of mourning: She shaves off the hair that "flowed down my back like the river Styx." Not only has her father left her mother, he's left the daughter he's sexually abused for years. Rani pours herself into rap, finding heroes like LL Cool J and Queen Latifah, inspirations for her own slam poems. She joins a hip-hop crew, rapping as MC Sutra. The novel is punctuated by her raps, which express "the large and in charge person / I want the world to see." (These lyrics work for her character arc, but also have the effect of making you feel you're reading, well, someone's slam poetry.) Though suffering is at the core of this debut novel, it's also about living through pain by harnessing what brings happiness. And the dip into '90s nostalgia, not to mention the awesome Rani persevering and conquering as MC Sutra - but more important, as herself - makes reading all the slam poetry well worth it. JEN DOLL is the author of "Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest." Her first young adult book, "Unclaimed Baggage," will be published next year.|
Publishers Weekly Review
|At first glance, the premise of Niven's second YA novel, after All the Bright Places, seems dark and improbable: high school junior Libby Strout was once so heavy that she had to be rescued from her house by a crane, senior Jack Masselin has prosopagnosia (face blindness), and they meet when Jack-whose friends, girlfriend, and huge Afro are designed to protect the cool-guy persona he uses to disguise his condition-goes along with the horrible game of "Fat Girl Rodeo." Libby's size and backstory make her a target, but she can dance again, and she's smart, brave, bitingly funny, and no one's victim (as Jack finds out when she slugs him). Meanwhile, Jack is isolated, angry, and guilty about the compromises he has made. As the semester progresses, they suffer through detention and counseling, Libby makes friends and contends with bullying, Jack opens up to her about his face blindness, and they move-carefully-into romantic territory. Niven makes the novel's improbable setup work, avoiding the suggestion that happiness lies in thinness as she creates two indelible characters and a heart-stopping romance. Ages 14-up. Agent: Kerry Sparks, Levine Greenberg Rostan (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.|
School Library Journal Review
|Gr 9 Up-Libby Strout is used to being alone. After her mother's unexpected death, she had eaten her grief away to the point of morbid obesity. Her trials and challenges with this issue turned her into a social media spectacle and forced her into seclusion. Now she is entering high school after years of homeschooling and a medical surgery that helped her go from 600 to 300 pounds. Jack Masselin is the resident bad boy and part of the "in" crowd, but his behavior is all a facade to cover up a big secret. Jack has prosopagnosia, a neurological condition that causes facial blindness. He uses identifiers such as hairstyles and voice recognition and has mastered the art of keeping people at bay so as not to betray his disability. Libby's and Jack's worlds eventually collide after a bullying incident and poor judgment, which places them both in after-school detention. As their friendship grows, they learn what truth and honesty are all about. Libby's unique presence and drive to be herself permeate this poignant story. Jack, who is biracial, transcends the popular pretty boy trope. Both are complex, nuanced protagonists. Written in short chapters of alternating perspectives, this is a thoughtful exploration of identity and self-acceptance, with commentary on overcoming adversities that will hit close to home. The work also examines anxiety, mixed-race marriages, and LGBTQ issues. VERDICT Niven's approach to hard-hitting subjects will speak to the intellectual teen crowd, including fans of Niven's previous work, Emery Lord's The Start of Me and You, and Nicola Yoon's Everything, Everything.-Sabrina Carnesi, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, VA © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.|