ORBITING JUPITER by Gary D. Schmidt
ABOUT THE BOOK
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.
This tender, heartbreaking novel is Gary D. Schmidt at his best.
Gary Schmidt is one of those authors whose books I feel compelled to read because they open doors to worlds I've never seen or experienced before. I knew going in that this one was a tearjerker and sure enough it was. Nevertheless, I'm grateful I took the time to read it. I was a bit surprised at how short the book is considering how powerful the story is, the sign of a good writer. Schmidt has always been able to bring me into his characters lives and care about what they've experienced and what they are going through. This book was no different.
Interestingly Joseph's story is told through the eyes of his twelve-year-old foster brother, Jack, who has clearly had no experiences even remotely close to Joseph's. And yet it seems to be Jack's innocence and naivety that allows him to accept Joseph despite his past. I cheered for Jack and his parents all the way as they do everything in their power to help Joseph feel welcome, giving him his space while including him in tending the cows. Jack's willingness to walk to school with Joseph after an unpleasant encounter with the bus driver regardless of the snow and cold. As Joseph slowly opens up to Jack and his parents, I shed tears for Joseph's pain and lost innocence, at the hands of his own father no less. Joseph does make some poor choices along the way, but it's understandable for a thirteen-year-old whose abused and unloved. Joseph's longing to connect to his daughter, Jupiter, despite everything was heart-breaking. But thanks to Jack and his parents and some caring teachers (yeah!, I get so tired of obnoxious teachers), Joseph's life starts to look up. But once again his father intrudes and tragedy results.
The only issue I had with the book is the Christmas Eve church scene where the paster tells the story of Jesus birth, but tells a version a bit different than that told in the Bible, implying that Joseph got Mary pregnant. Which relates to Joseph's experience but in the Bible Joseph isn't Jesus's father, God is. A rather different set of circumstances. I found this a bit irritating, but as I think about it, maybe the author intends to convey the way that Jack and Joseph perceive the story. This is a book that is all about perceptions and the different ways that people see the world.
This book has made me think about the lives of the children I know and their hurts and hopes. This book has inspired me to look at them with more compassion, hoping I can be like the teachers in this book, offering help and hope rather than doubt and disgust (Mr. Canton, the vice principal). This is one of those books that once you read it, it will stay with you for a long time.