“Holding up the universe” Jennifer Niven

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published October 4, 2016. Alfred A. Knopf. 391 p.

holdinguptheuniverseAfter her mother died when she was 11-years-old, Libby Strout felt so sad and burdened with grief that only food could lessen her pain. Her father used cooking to assuage his own grief, and the combination soon caused her to balloon to 653 pounds.

Jack Masselin spent his life building things from scraps, but nothing could help him build up his own life as everyone, including his own brothers and parents, were strangers.

Libby and Jack meet under unusual circumstances, gradually learning to depend upon each other for mutual support. As high school life threatens to tear them down, the two of them face their worst fears in order to move forward.

Through alternate chapters Libby and Jack tell their stories of feeling different for circumstances out of their control, while learning the importance of unity in the face of diversity.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Sacred” Elana K. Arnold

Delacorte Press, 2012. 354 pp.

SacredScarlett’s older brother died suddenly, which means her life has fallen apart and nothing will ever be the same again. Her mother is lost in grief and sleeping pills, while her dad drifts through his days. Scarlett is alone and lost in her own grief, so becomes anorexic to deal with her pain and shuts herself off from life. Her normal teenage high school life has become a burden – until she meets Will.

Will, he of the big, beautiful, green eyes. Will, who causes her heart to race with anticipation, while electricity shoots through her from his kisses. Will, who gives her life new meaning. Life for Scarlett is now full of sunshine and rainbows – even when Will tells her of his strange gift. Nothing can change how she feels about him – even when he dumps her.

Watching Scarlett go through her various “woe is me” phases was quite painful. Her reaction of not knowing what to do with her life anymore when she and Will broke up was the biggest pain of all. Her co-dependence was just like Bella with Edward in “Twilight,” which was just as painful. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to shut the book in frustration, or keep reading to see if she got a grip.

The many emotional ups and downs evinced by Scarlett may be off putting to some, as it was to me, so I will leave it up to readers aged 13 and up to decide if they want to Read it or Not. To give more pain (or joy if you really loved it), Arnold has decided to grace us with part 2, “Splendor,” which is slated to come out in the Fall.

By the end of “Sacred” Scarlett had grown a backbone, but was still co-dependent. It remains to be seen how “Splendor” will play out for her.

“Skinny” Donna Cooner

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy). To be published October 1, 2012. Point (Scholastic). 263 pp. (includes Acknowledgements).

Ever is 15 years old and weighs 302 pounds. She hates herself, and the way she looks. She hates having to squeeze into seats, and how everyone looks at her in disgust. She hates that her mom died and left her with just memories which she tries to drown out with food. She hates feeling invisible. If she even has the tiniest thought that is not hateful Skinny, her imaginary person, is there to remind her she’s just a loser.

Skinny has decided Ever is useless, but Ever is tired and wants change. She wants to be Cinderella and go to the ball with Jackson, the prince she’s had her eye on for years. She wants to be loved, and be “normal.” Against Skinny’s advice, and with great fear, Ever undergoes gastric bypass surgery. With the help of her nerdy friend Rat, she embarks on a journey to reinvent herself.

However, as the pounds slowly peel away Ever faces the fears that go along with discovering her curves. Who is she? What will she become? Can she really live out her dream? She is afraid to face herself, and Skinny’s belittling words continue to rule her life. Along her journey, Ever learns that a frog may sometimes turn out to be a prince in disguise and that she can do more than she thinks. Ever’s battles are real, and will reach out to all readers, regardless of their struggles.

Cooner also went through gastric bypass surgery, which makes Ever’s voice more realistic. “Skinny” is an important read for teens, not only for those struggling with weight loss but for their peers. Cooner is a refreshingly new voice in YA lit, and I look forward to reading more of her work.