Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven (391 pages)
Overview: Told from the alternating perspectives of Jack and Libby, this is the story of two teens, who both have their own challenges, facing high school. Libby was once America's Fattest Teen, and though she has come a long way from being immobile and homebound at the peak of her struggle after her mother's death, she still is overweight. Of course, at her small town Indiana high school, she gets bullied for this just as she did before she started homeschooling. While Libby rejoins the masses for her junior year, Jack is entering his senior year in the same haze he's lived in since he was six. Suffering from prosopagnosia, Jack doesn't recognize anyone; his friends, his girlfriend, even his family. Instead of sharing this, Jack works to hide it which he does effectively thanks to his natural charm and swagger. When an unfortunate incident prodded by Jack's popular friends causes the two to meet, things start to change for them. Overall: 4.5
Characters: 4.5 I thought that Libby and Jack were quality characters with layers and complexity. The supporting cast also carried their weight throughout the novel. Libby wants to show the world how to be kind and make a difference toward positive change after years of enduring hate. Her bubbly, energetic personality has come back to her again, and she is determined to never let it falter. She is so sure in her skin that nothing can really touch her anymore.
Jack, on the other hand, has the appearance of being self assured and smooth, but it's really only a mix of natural swagger and survival skills as he walks through life unable to place people in his memory. He does a good job of trying to mask it while he deals with the other crumbling parts of his life (his little brother being the constant bullying target, his father overcoming cancer only to cheat on his mother, and his parents eminent separation). And he does his best all the time though no one notices or praises his for it because all they see are the mistakes that are totally out of Jack's control.
Plot: 5 The plot is where this book shines. I couldn't stop turning the pages making every time I sat down to read a few pages into an hour long session. Niven knows how to keep the reader engaged and ready to devour whatever lies ahead.
Writing: 5 Niven is most definitely doing what she was born to do. She has an undeniable talent that makes any book she pens special. Her quick chapters kept me engaged and never made me feel burdened by long bouts of reading. The words on the pages feel light and easy to read in the best way. This story is defiantly lighter and more hopeful than All The Brightest Places. It is a quality read that should make any YA lovers TBR list. It simply didn't make the five star mark because I didn't connect or identify with these characters as I did Finch and Violet; though I see that as a positive thing for two reasons. First, it means that Jennifer did something very different with a book in the same genre and format as her last one which show artistic verity and capability and guarantees each of her books will be unique. Second, I know that there are defiantly people out there who will identify strongly with Libby and Jack just as I did Finch and Violet, and that is very important.
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (215 pages)
Overview: Colin has always been smart. Very smart; a child prodigy actually. And even though he never had many friends, Colin was content with his life. But the problem comes to exist that ever since he graduated high school, Colin isn't a child anymore. Unable to make the jump to genius, Colin is floundering with what to do with himself; how to define himself when his strength in memory and anagramming no longer makes him special. How will he matter one day? which is a question Colin always asks himself. The only other stark defining point of himself, dating exclusively Katherines (and only Katherines with a K), hasn't worked out so well either. On the heels of getting dumped by Katherine #19, Colin and his only friend Hassan decide to take a road trip ending up in the tiny, nowhere town of Gutshot, Tennessee where they find summer jobs collecting oral histories for the lady who essentially owns the town. While there, Colin has what he thinks is his Eurika! moment when he sets out to make an equation that could chart the fate of any relationship. Is this what Colin needs to matter? Is being an ex-child-genuis all Colin will ever amount to? And will he ever find a Katherine who doesn't dump him? All of these questions and more are answered over the course of John Green's awesome novel An Abundance of Katherines. Overall: 4.7
Characters: 5 I loved the characters in this book as well as how fully explored the cast is. The main character, Colin, has an identity crisis on his hands. Always having one label his whole life and living with the fear that he can't live up to it or continue to hold it is a facet of his personality I identified with. Colin's growth comes in stepping outside of his bubble and delving into the deeper parts of his personality beyond the obvious, and he needs a setting and people so far from the norm to do that. He has to figure out what he actually likes beyond what the world told him he is.
Hassan has always shied away from commitment. He's been fine with letting his parents take care of him. At the start of the book he has no ambition to go to college or do much of anything with his life aside from sitting on the couch and watching Judge Judy all day. Working and living in Gunshot for the summer also pushes Hassan out of his little bubble as well. Some of Colin's intense want to matter starts to rub off on him in a positive way allowing Hassan to start taking the first tentative steps toward maturity.
Then there is Lindsey, daughter of the town factory owner, seemingly beloved by all. Lindsey went from ugly and picked on to unique and uncaring, and then, in high school, she finally succumbed to the need to be liked, to be popular. Nothing Lindsey does is because she enjoys it. None of her personalities are real. She knows how to play the game to be liked by whoever she's with, and she puts on those faces accordingly. Colin and Hassan are her catalysts for returning to that point of honesty with herself.
Plot: 4.5 I thought that it was a great story that served the plot. The elements of the story matched what was necessary for character growth.The story was entertaining and kept me turning the pages.
Writing: 5 I always love John Green's writing probably because his narrators are always so amazing. This book is written in third person, a trait which often bugs me when reading books. That is not the case here. I believe that is because the narrator has a voice of his own that really comes through in a way that expertly sets the tone and works to make the book so much better. Now if the character development wasn't there, this would irritate me, but each and every main character is so well developed this narrator felt like the icing on the cake.
Also, this book contains a sprinkling of footnotes (something I recently encountered in another book I read, thought the execution here is far better). They always made me laugh out loud and were never confusing to the actual story. It's no wonder John Green is such a popular author. I have always found his writing to be solid, never imposing, and always enjoyable.