The two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt delivers the shattering story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. After spending time in a juvenile facility, he’s placed with a foster family on a farm in rural Maine. Here Joseph, damaged and withdrawn, meets twelve-year-old Jack, who narrates the account of the troubled, passionate teen who wants to find his baby at any cost. In this riveting novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family and the sacrifices it requires.
Here’s your takeaway from what I’m going to write: Get this book. Get ready to cry.
I was just telling the teens in my book club at the library that I had been having such a reading slump last month. I started and cast aside so many things. Then I’ve hit this great patch for the past few weeks where I’m reading so many phenomenal books that my top ten books of the year list is swelling to way more than that. Orbiting Jupiter is one of those books where I am so blown away by it that I just want to carry around a stack of copies to hand out to anyone I talk to—whether at the library or just in the world. The small summary up there exactly sums up the plot, but also does nothing to convey the real strength and depth of this devastating story. I’m not going to do much to fill all of that in, honestly. This is a book where the less you know, the more powerful the story is. I don’t want to give away too much.
Here’s what you can know about Joseph: Joseph, the son of a plumber, is secretly seeing Madeleine, a well-to-do girl whose parents are often gone. When their relationship is discovered, her parents issue an injunction against Joseph to keep him away from Madeleine. She winds up pregnant. He winds up in a group home, then a high-security juvenile facility, then, eventually, with Jack’s family. Joseph is just about one of the most broken, scarred characters I have read in a long time. He’s gone through horrible things in his young life, both at home and in the facility, and now lives his life always on the defensive.
Jack’s family does their best to show him kindness, support, and love. He slowly starts to come out of his shell, eventually filling them in on their events prior to him landing at their house. A few teachers at school see beyond the label of troubled teen father and go out of their way to encourage him and help him. Jack tells him he has his back, no matter what. All the while, things with Joseph’s father are brewing in the background. And Joseph is always thinking of his daughter, Jupiter, and desperately wishing he could see her. His new life may be starting to look like it might be okay, but his old life is nipping at his heels, constantly pulling him backwards.
Schmidt’s spare writing is beautiful and the voice of Jack, our young narrator, is moving, compassionate, and, at times, appropriately naive. It’s an understatement to say I cried while reading this. It’s an understatement to say that Joseph’s story will stay with me. Schmidt has crafted a heartbreaking story about the redemptive power of love and second chances. No one ever said life was fair, but readers will walk away stunned at the cruel hand some people are dealt.
Review copy provided courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/06/2015