"We can't fight another person's battle, no matter how much we want to."
-Jennifer Niven, Holding Up the Universe
Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. No one takes the time to see past Libby's weight, and Jack puts up a facade that allows him to fit in, hiding his biggest secret: he can't recognize faces. After an incident at school, Libby and Jack become unlikely friends. They find that the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel.
Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places is one of my favorite young adult novels, so I was excited to finally get to read her latest novel. And I wasn't disappointed. Niven has a knack for creating complex characters that have more to them than meets the eye. Libby and Jack are both dealing with difficult things. However, it does represent a somewhat unfortunate trend in young adult literature that in order for the adolescent protagonists to feel accepted and wanted, they have to be in a romantic relationship. Nowadays, it's almost impossible to find a young adult novel in which the main characters do not end up together (except This Savage Song, which gets bonus points!).
Despite my annoyance at the romantic relationship, I really did enjoy this book overall, especially for the message that it sent: "You are wanted." Many teens need to hear that message, and I thought it was well done. Despite my views of it, this novel has apparently been getting a lot of bad press and reviews because some reviewers are saying that Niven uses her characters insecurities in order to create an angsty romance; that Libby doesn't wholly accept herself until she is with Jack. While yes, the romance aspect of the book wasn't necessarily my favorite, I don't think that this is the case. Libby stands up for herself when her and Jack aren't together, and I don't think she needs him to feel whole.
Overall, the message of this book is powerful, but I do think it could have done without the romance. Not every novel needs to end in a relationship these days.