Book Review: Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: Jack, 12, tells the gripping story of Joseph, 14, who joins his family as a foster child. Damaged in prison, Joseph wants nothing more than to find his baby daughter, Jupiter, whom he has never seen. When Joseph has begun to believe he'll have a future, he is confronted by demons from his past that force a tragic sacrifice.*

The first book I read of Gary D. Schmidt's was The Wednesday Wars, and I absolutely loved his writing style. I was thrilled when I found out about Orbiting Jupiter. This book is written from the simple, young perspective of Jack, a sixth-grade boy who lives on an organic farm with his parents. His family welcomes fourteen-year-old Joseph into their home as a foster child. Coming from prison, Joseph, who rarely talks or smiles and doesn't let anyone stand behind him, starts adjusting to life with Jack and his family, a life of attending to farm animals and going to middle school. Through Jack's eyes, we learn what haunts Joseph, how differently people within his new community judge and treat him, and witness how trust and love can change someone for the better. 

Although learning Joseph's background is crucial, my favorite part of this book was reading about the new relationships, good or bad, that Joseph made within his new home and school life. It was fascinating and emotional to see how various people treated him. Jack, being a true example of a kind heart, accepted Joseph almost immediately. . . just as soon as his cows approved. "You can tell all you need to know about someone from the way cows are around him," (Orbiting Jupiter, pg 11). That is one of the most true statements I've ever read, though I would apply it to almost any animal--dogs, cows, horses, etc. 

We also view the relationships Joseph developed with various teachers at his new school. While some pre-judged him and immediately shrugged him off as a no-good, dirty-rotten criminal, others, bless their loving and caring souls, gave Joseph a chance and were shocked at what he was capable of. "It's not the solution. . . It's the path to the solution that's fascinating," (Orbiting Jupiter, pg 29). It was beautiful to witness the miracle of a young man who has been through so much at such a young age, start to open up and have hope, to smile and laugh like a fourteen-year-old should. "Christmas is the season for miracles, you know. Sometimes they come big and loud, I guess--but I've never seen one of those. I think probably most miracles are a lot smaller, and sort of still, and so quiet, you could miss them. I didn't miss this one." (Orbiting Jupiter, pg 114-115). It can be difficult to successfully write such an honest, painful story--to put such astounding life lessons into a middle-grade/young adult novel. This is where Schmidt has shown what a profound author he is. Through the voice of the tender youth, he effectively transforms difficult and painful topics into quiet and simple stories that demand our attention. It is impossible to read this book and not think about how you treat others, judge others, or how to be a better person. Orbiting Jupiter is simple and bold; a powerful, difficult, and beautiful story about hope, true friendship, and being a good person.



*Synopsis provided by Goodreads.com

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