SPOILER FREE REVIEW
Synopsis (Taken from Goodreads.com):
Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for every possibility life has to offer. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.
Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.
Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.
Goodreads Rating: 3.93/5 Stars
My Rating: 1/5 Stars
Considering that I’ve been on a bit of a contemporary run currently, I was upset to have been so severely disappointed by this novel. However, considering the scathing reviews and lower rating on Goodreads, I definitely should have known better than to pick up this novel at the store. When it comes to Niven’s books, they are always surrounded by controversy, and this novel was no different.
Primarily, I was disappointed by the characterization. As an author with multiple books in the publishing world, one would believe that developing characters would be a source of strength at this point in her career. Unfortunately, for this novel, that was not the case. While Niven attempted using diversity within her novel, it came as a detriment to the story. We had Libby, an obese girl returning to public school, who was difficult to be in the head of, considering her habit of complaining and belief that falling in love/having sex will help her lose weight. On the other hand, we had Jack, with prosopagnosia (face-blindness), we purposely acted like a bully and often referred to his disability as his brain “being broken.”
We had Libby, an obese girl returning to public school, who was difficult to be in the head of, considering her belief that falling in love/having sex will help her lose weight. Although she put on a brave fight at the end to create statements against the bullies of the school, those actions could not outweigh (excuse the pun) the inner-monologues she was consistently having about herself and her weight. In addition, we had the cliche appearance of the tragic family backstory as an attempt to add dimension to her characterization, but that also fell short as well.
On the other hand, we had Jack, with prosopagnosia (face-blindness), we purposely acted like a bully and often referred to his disability as his brain “being broken.” This representation was the most insulting of all, as disabilities should never be considered as a fault or “broken” state for a person, let alone a character. It appeared that she was using this diagnosis as a simple way to create tension and conflict throughout the plot.
To further these foolish characterization moves, Niven furthered the situation by having the two characters fall in love. In other words, insta-love was in play, my friends. Not only did the characters completely lack chemistry, but, as a reader, I barely knew their personalities well enough for them to even be counted as friends, let alone dating. Again, this was another instance of “love solves everything,” instead of Niven facing off with the plots she had created for herself.
Speaking of plots, those were all poorly executed, as well. When looking back at it, I believe it to be tied in with the inconsistent pacing. The first half of the novel flowed fairly well and kept me interested enough to keep reading; nevertheless, by the time one reached the second half of the novel, it slowed down immensely and I began to skim the novel, just to get it over and done with.
Between the poor plot and the foolish character moves, it’s no surprise that this novel is on my “do not read again” list. By the time I finished this novel, I felt as if I had read nothing of substance. You know that feeling when you watch an episode of a show and you walk away feeling as if everything and nothing had happened? That is how I felt at the end of this novel. I wasn’t attached to any of the characters, many of the plot points were simply there to create conflict, and the misrepresentation was frustrating.
“You might not want to burn your bridges when you’re standing on an island.”
― Jennifer Niven,