Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

After spending time in a high-security juvenile facility from which he ran away, Joseph Brook, 13, is placed in a foster home in rural Maine.  The Hurd's have a small farm and along with their son Jack, 11, Joseph is expected to get up early in the morning and do chores before school.  Soon, Joseph has won over Rosie, a cow who moos her love for him whenever he comes to milk her.

But while life with the Hurd's may be better for Joseph than a juvenile facility, school is another thing, especially after the other kids find out the he has fathered a child at his age, a 3 month old daughter named Jupiter he is forbidden to ever see.  Jack, who has been a model student, suddenly starts acting out out solidarity with Joseph, and a tenuous bond begins to form between the two boys.

It's clear that Joseph had been badly abused at the juvenile facility he was put into, though he refuses to talk about it.  But little by little, Joseph begins to feel more comfortable in the Hurd household, and he even finds support among some of the teachers at the school he attends with Jack, though there are plenty of faculty who take an instant dislike to him and students who seem to enjoy bullying him, sometimes physically.

And, little by little, Joseph begins to open up to Jack about the events that led up to Jupiter.  How he met Madeleine, also 13, a wealthy girl often left home alone and how they fell in love with each other.  Now, all he wants now is to see Jupiter, and be her father.  But Madeleine died in childbirth and child services want Joseph to give up his parental right so that Jupiter can be adopted.  Joseph has no intention of doing that and when he finally decides to find Jupiter, Jack is right there helping him.

But when Joseph's real father shows up with a lawyer, insisting that Joseph is a minor and he is the only one who can sign away any parental rights, it becomes clear that he isn't acting out of concern for Joseph, but only in the hope of extorting a lot of money from Jupiter's wealthy maternal grandparents, money he feels he's entitled to.

It is a scenario that can only lead to tragedy.

The story is narrated in the first person by Jack, so that the reader gets a relatively straight-forward, but rather naive version of Joseph's story, nicely unclouded by any moral judgement. Jack, who was pretty excited to finally have an older brother to hang around with, was from the start on the side of Joseph, and unlike most of the people in Joseph's life, Jack sticks by him no matter what.

Orbiting Jupiter was recommended to me by so many people, I couldn't wait to read it.  It is a short book, so well written, that extra words, explanations, descriptions would have cluttered it up and diminished its impact.  I was riveted from the start, reading it on one sitting.

I found it to be a sad, sobering look at how we treat children who are dealt a rotten hand from the start and are caught in unhappy, dangerous circumstance they are, for the most part, powerless to change.  Wherever Joseph should have found support and trust, he had only found neglect and abuse until he meets Madeleine and later, the Hurds.  By the end of the book, my sadness had turned to anger - at the adults who were responsible for Joseph's life before he got to the Hurds.

Orbiting Jupiter is a heartbreaking story of betrayal and neglect, but also one of friendship, hope, and trust - and Jack leads the way.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Author Gary Schmidt talks about Orbiting Jupiter in this short video:

3 comments:

  1. I still haven't read this one, but find all of Gary Schmidt's books heart rending. He shares times in families that one finds hard to read. Wishing won't make it so, but I do wish we could find ways to support kids caught in such circumstances. Nice review, Alex!

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  2. This book was a favourite of mine. A beautiful review.

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  3. This sounds like an immensely powerful novel - and one that I would definitely like to read.

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