Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary D. Schmidt published in 2015 by Clarion Books
Gary Schmidt’s latest novel — written for a Young Adult audience — is once again an invitation to come, live in someone else’s shoes for awhile. This time, they are the shoes of a 14-year-old boy named Joseph who has been in the juvenile system, tried to kill his teacher, and wound up incarcerated. His father is abusive. His mother is dead. And one more thing: he fathered a child at age 13.
Now — have you formed a mental picture of this boy?Are you ready to look deeper into his heart?
Joseph ends up in a foster home where he encounters safety, steadiness, and love. This does not tidily erase his problems. His foster brother, Jack, is the narrator of this story, one which challenges our categories of troubled kids and faces directly the pain of no easy answers and a universe where such terribly painful things happen.
Gary Schmidt writes about the messy world we live in, where children lead lives that are broken in far uglier, more devastating ways than most of us would like to acknowledge. Yet Schmidt’s universe also holds forth the possibility of substantial healing through honesty, love and second..third…fourth chances. That’s the world we all long so desperately to be a part of. I think we also long to be the healers and second-chance-givers which makes it so poignant when we witness them in a story.
In several of Schmidt’s earlier books — The Wednesday Wars certainly, and also Okay for Now — the dark streaks were offset by brilliant splashes of humor. This book has a few smiles in it, but its overall tone is far more somber. The cadence of his prose, the lovely run-on ramblings and sudden right turns, is here again. Jack has a folksy, forthright voice which mellows the harsh realities of the story mercifully, yet this time there is much less comic relief. There is a much quieter, sparer tone to the narrative, with phrases mesmerizing as snow in the headlights, coming at you, coming at you, with hypnotic effect.
I don’t know…maybe you aren’t up for heartbreak at this particular moment in time. But if you’re looking for a thought-provoking read that juxtaposes heartache and hope, that shows us the tragedy in Paris and then switches the camera to gaze at the long line of folks donating blood, as it were — then you should give this a try. It’s even got a wintery, Christmastime setting.
Ages 13 and up. This is not a read for younger children. For those who have read Okay for Now, you will see a familiar character appear that will definitely make you smile.