She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Libby

holdinguptheuniverseA few years ago I was having lunch with two co-workers. They each agreed that they would take one year off of their lives if they could be skinny. Not thin but skinny. There’s a great distinction if you listen closely. No lightweight myself, I said if I traded a year off my life for anything it would be to become a bestselling novelist. That was when I was in my twenties. Now at the end of my 30s I’d trade a year of my life just to be a happy human being. Or human. Ba-dum-hiss. I’m here all week. Tip your waitress.

Jennifer Niven’s book Holding Up the Universe is a novel that absolutely does not fit the YA cliché of “Our eyes met across a crowded room and I knew he saw me for who I really am.” That crap never happens in real life. I meet eyes with someone across a crowded room and my first thought is usually ‘What the !@ck are you looking at?’ Well, that’s my first thought, quickly followed by ‘I’d better get out of that guy’s line of sight so he can see the beautiful creature who must be standing right behind me.’

In Holding Up the Universe, Libby is a self-proclaimed fat girl but she is NOT who she used to be: “America’s Fattest Teen” the teen who was over 600 pounds and had to be cut out of her house. Being surrounded by firefighters who cut a wall in the side of her house to get her out was her wake up call. My wake up call came in the voice of the demon from The Exorcist: ‘You’re almost 40! What have you done with your life? Nothing!’ Oh to have a demon possess me. Hop on in pal. You’re going to find one unhappy person with obsessive thoughts that’ll keep you awake all night.

After her mother’s death, Libby and her father are on their own. He homeschools her and she tries to start a new life. And then she decides she wants to go to public high school. And she prays no one remembers her as “America’s Fattest Teen.” I tell you, I wish I had even a quarter of this girl’s self-esteem. My mom once told me that when I walk into a room and feel nervous as hell I needed to walk in like I owned the damn place. Libby walks into every room with over the top confidence, even when classmates make cow noises around her.

Enter Jack, a cocky high school jock with an afro full of charm. But he has a secret. He can’t recognize faces. He has a condition called prosopagnosia. He’s literally face blind. And he’s the only one who knows about it. He becomes adept at recognizing a physical marker about a person: the way they wear their hair or the way their voice sounds. His own two brothers could come up to him on the street and he wouldn’t know who they were.

Jack can only keep his secret safe for so long before people get suspicious. He meets Libby because one of his friends decides to pull a mega cruel joke called ‘Fat Girl Rodeo.’ You latch onto an overweight person and whoever stays on the longest wins. Wins at being the world’s biggest asshole. But it wasn’t Libby the boy latched onto but another heavyset girl. When Libby finds out about it she chases down the boy. Everyone is amazed at how fast she can run. She vaulted a fence to go after him. That’s my kind of girl! I once vaulted a baby gate to chase my brother. It didn’t end well.

Libby confronts the group of boys involved in the ‘Fat Girl Rodeo.’ Not to be outdone by his douchey friends, Jack whispers to Libby “I’m sorry” before launching himself onto her. When Libby manages to pry him off she punches him in the mouth and down he goes. They both get detention and spend the next few weeks reluctantly getting to know each other. Jack starts to look forward to seeing Libby and this confuses him. He has a gorgeous girlfriend. At least he thinks he does. He doesn’t recognize her when she comes up to him.

Libby is beginning to have feelings for Jack. You want to know what absofreakinloutely rocks about Libby? Her first thought isn’t ‘He wouldn’t be caught dead dating a fat girl.’ She’s more upset about how she feels about Jack. And Jack is worried that she might not like him. It looks like Jack and Libby will become a couple but is she confident enough?

One secret she doesn’t tell anyone is that she can dance. I mean dance. Not the white girl shuffle I do when I’m ‘dancing.’ It’s full on the stars and the galaxies are aligned and dance she must. It’s Jennifer Beals dancing in Flashdance (yes, I know Jennifer Beals didn’t do her own dancing in Flashdance but that was the first movie that came to mind and I’ll probably think of a better one at 2 in the morning.) Better than Lady Gaga in 13 inch stilettos.

Libby has made her choice. Instead of trying to become invisible and stay beneath the radar, she flaunts her confidence, even after nasty notes are shoved into her locker. She refuses to back down and run away with her tail between her legs.

Fat, skinny, short, tall, weird, boring, Trump supporters-everyone should read this book and learn how it’s done when you’re the girl who had to get cut out of her own house.

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