Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting-Jupiter-Gary-Schmidt-Cover

Image Credit: http://www.amazon.com/Orbiting-Jupiter-Gary-D-Schmidt/dp/054446222X

Started: September 14, 2015

Finished: September 14, 2015

*Category: Two books by the same author. (I plan to read Wednesday Wars soon)

Published: October 2015

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Middle Grade

Awards: None YET 🙂

Pages: 192

Themes: Coming of age, Friendship, Family Abuse, Empathy

Rating: 5 Stars

Age/Interest Range: 6th grand and up

I finished this book in one sitting, in about 2.5 hours. Yep, it was that good.

It was hooked by page 10: “You can tell all you need to know about someone from the way cows are around him.”

The entire story is told by Jack. He’s a sixth grader whose parents are small farmers in Maine, and as a family they have chosen to foster Joseph. Joseph is an 8th grader who has recently been in teen-jail for attacking a teacher. Oh, and Joseph has a child. A daughter named Jupiter. And Joseph in dead set in finding this infant daughter he has never met.

Joseph struggles with how he is perceived by others (including adults who pass judgement on him passive aggressively). Jack is just the greatest kid… He quietly earns Joseph’s trust, and patiently lets Joseph adjust to his new home, while pushing him only when Joseph needs pushed. Jack’s parents also provide proper space and healthy structure. All of these efforts are exactly what Joseph needs, yet has never had.

Joseph and Jack built a great and authentic friendship<This was my favorite part of the story. This friendship (and the stability offered by Jack’s parents) allows Joseph to confide in his foster family that he must see the daughter he’s never met, Jupiter. (Joseph’s deadbeat/abusive father is all the while trying to strong arm Jupiter’s mother’s family financially. Which only makes Joseph trying to see his daughter all the harder.) Jack’s parents agree to help Joseph find his daughter… and how all that unfolds is painfully beautiful.

Overall, Schmidt manages to effortlessly keep all the good stuff that makes for good YA, and thankfully leaves out all the superficial, unnecessary details that gets undeserving hype. This title could trigger powerful conversations about love, responsibility, empathy, tolerance, and just how BEING THERE for a friend is a very powerful tool.  I loved the realistically orchestrated balance between the (always interesting) troublesome side of teens, and the good (that does still exists in this world) that helps those same teens grow, learn, and overcome. I predict middle grade students will enjoy this story because it includes topics they are typically curious about (and slightly taboo – child pregnancy), has universal appeal to either gender, and has an emotional outcome.

Schmidt also shows us how to be a friend to someone who thinks they don’t need one because they’ve never had one before.  I was reminded of the powerfulness of young love, that we don’t always need to understand kids to help them, and that some adults need to think before opening their mouths to troubled teens (I seriously wanted to strangle the bus driver and Mr. Canton!)

I will warn you… I cried at the end. And I’m not typically a crier. But even though tears flowed, I wouldn’t sell this title to kids as a “sad” book. They’ll miss the point. I would sell it as a book that shows how we all have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of others. It’s actually very simple: Just have their back.

Overall Literary Merit: HIGH

Classroom possible uses:

To prompt writing invitations. (Who have you disliked in the story. Write their backstory… Who was your favorite character in the story. Compose a short spin off story.)

Students could keep a journal throughout the story, keeping track of character emotions and why they feel those emotions (Empathy).

Read another G. Schmidt novel and compare/contrast.

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