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The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I

Review

The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I

This sequel to THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS finds Virginia on the verge of a nervous breakdown --- or perhaps on the verge of a breakthrough.

Fifteen years ago, Carolyn Mackler burst onto the YA scene with THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS, which introduced readers to the memorable, winning voice of Virginia Shreves --- and earned Macker a Printz Honor for her work. At the end of that book (spoiler alert!), Virginia had finally started to embrace her curvy shape, develop a healthy attitude toward her family’s unrealistic expectations and even land a boyfriend, much to her own surprise.

"[Readers] will be sure to cheer as Virginia begins to come into her own in this novel....Virginia is an appealingly imperfect character, someone who readers will relate to and imagine befriending."

Despite the decade and a half that’s passed in the real world, only a few months have elapsed between the end of that novel and the start of its sequel, THE UNIVERSE IS EXPANDING AND SO AM I. As the summer after sophomore year approaches, Virginia’s plagued with self-doubts; she’s just not that into Froggy anymore, but she doesn’t want to violate her own rule: “If you’re a chunky chick and you managed to get a nice boyfriend, don’t ever let him go.”

Her boyfriend troubles aside, Virginia’s looking ahead to a summer filled with an internship at her dad’s company, working alongside her best friend Shannon, who is finally coming back to New York City after a year in Walla Walla, Washington. Also returning to the Shreves’ family home? Virginia’s older sister Anaïs, who’s been in the Peace Corps for two years. But as the summer kicks off, everything changes, and Virginia’s summer starts to look very different --- and not in a good way.

Virginia’s older brother Byron, who was previously suspended from Columbia for sexual assault, is now under arrest for the same crime. Shannon has some bad news, and what should have been a cool internship instead turns into a job at Virginia’s least favorite place: her parents’ gym. Even Virginia’s favorite sanctuary --- her body-positive kickboxing class --- has been disrupted by the negativity of her nemesis, Brie Newhart. Will anything good happen this summer?

When something does --- a chance encounter at a bagel shop with a nerdy, book-loving (and cute!) artist who aspires to illustrate children’s picture books --- Virginia breathes a small sigh of relief. Maybe her friendship with Sebastian can offer her a break from the rest of her messed-up life. But that’s before she learns a secret that could bring her budding relationship with Sebastian to a dramatic and messy end.

Readers who already met Virginia in Mackler’s prior book will welcome the chance to spend more time in her funny, self-deprecating company. New readers will also be pleased to discover that THE UNIVERSE IS EXPANDING AND SO AM I can be read and enjoyed as a standalone novel as well. And both groups will be sure to cheer as Virginia begins to come into her own in this novel, finding her place in her family, sticking up for herself and gaining self-confidence through her friendships, her work and her ability to solve problems. Virginia is an appealingly imperfect character, someone who readers will relate to and imagine befriending.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 29, 2018

The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I
by Carolyn Mackler