Orbiting Jupiter

July 30, 2018

Author: Gary D. Schmidt.


When Jack meets his new foster brother, he already knows three things about him:

Joseph almost killed a teacher.

He was incarcerated at a place called Stone Mountain.

He has a daughter. Her name is Jupiter. And he has never seen her.

What Jack doesn’t know, at first, is how desperate Joseph is to find his baby girl.

Or how urgently he, Jack, will want to help.

But the past can’t be shaken off. Even as new bonds form, old wounds reopen. The search for Jupiter demands more from Jack than he can imagine.

(Published Summary).

My Thoughts:

A story of bad decisions and worst consequences, told through the straight-forward, simple voice of a boy.

Or, more optimistically, a story of love and responsibility and overcoming prejudice.

Joseph made a very bad choice or two – at the age of thirteen, with only an abusive father to support him – but his response is multiple levels above many real-life men in similar situations. The moment he finds out that he’s a father, his one goal becomes finding his baby daughter, to love and care for her.

Jack, his foster brother, must find bravery in a different place: standing up to his peers to support reticent Joseph. Where others watch with suspicion, Jack narrates the unfolding story without prejudice, and soon finds himself slipping in past the walls Joseph has set around himself.

A very good “young narrator” voice, I thought. The emotion of the story is all the more harsh for the spare, simple prose it comes in.

It’s a strange story. The tragedy of teen pregnancy seems to be more and more common, but thirteen is a special kind of wrong. And yet Orbiting Jupiter just – ignores that. It’s about the aftermath of juvenile prison, about Joseph hurting and alone, stumbling towards love and trust. There’s cruelty, and blood, and death; there’s milking cows, and ice-skating, and family nights; and a stubborn unwillingness to compromise to what he thinks is Right.

I don’t know what I think. It’s an emotional read, but in some ways a disturbing one.

Content Review:

Sexual content: One instance of dirty joking about what freezes first when a boy falls into the frozen river. / One kiss between 13 year old boy and girl, “then they went back inside, under the red woolen blanket”. This is all that’s said at the juncture, but we know there is a child born later.

Language: 3 hell.

Violence: Character remembers seeing a dog drown. Character rips his side open trying to climb over a barbed wire fence (no detail). Teenage girl dies in birth, off screen, no description. There is one fist-fight in which three kids ambush one boy; one nose is broken, one kid slammed repeatedly into a locker, and one boy knees another between the legs. There’s strong implication of abuse and violence in one character’s past, from his wariness and flinching.


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