A few months ago, I started following HMH Kids on Instagram – the account promotes newly released kids books, and I am tempted by all of their shiny book covers! I try not to judge a book by its cover, but if I see a book that looks and sounds interesting, I have to check it out. One of those books was Undertow, which sounded promising, but the story wasn’t that great. The latest of these books I read, after seeing its picture on Instagram, is Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary Schmidt. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I just finished it while we were on Christmas vacation, visiting family, and I really liked it.
The book focuses on Jack, a 6th grader who lives in Maine, whose family has welcomed a new foster child into their home. He is an only child, and he and his parents live on a remote farm. Joseph comes to them after having an incident in his old school, and having being taken away from his father who had been raising him alone. Jack had heard rumors about Joseph be his arrival on their farm, he had heard that Joseph had almost killed his teacher. Of course this turns out not to be true, but it just adds to the mystery surrounding Joseph.
He’s fascinated by this bad boy, and is forced to live, work, and go to school with him. His school friends think he’s crazy for attempting to be Joseph’s friend. Jack’s mission then becomes changing their opinions of Joseph, just as it becomes Jack’s parents’ mission to love Joseph, and help Joseph. Joseph begins to heal through his work on the farm. When they all learn more about Joseph’s life, they have compassion, and understanding. They learn about his relationship with a young girl (they were both 13), and how they became parents.
He wasn’t able to see the girl again, and was never able to meet their daughter. Jack doesn’t quite understand Joseph’s mission to meet his daughter, but he decides to help him anyways. His daughter’s name is Jupiter, which is where the title comes from. Although Joseph knows he’s not ready to be a father, he’s not willing to give Jupiter away.
I really loved this story – and the characters, especially Jack. I know kids can be cruel, and rumors can sometimes destroy someone’s reputation. And that even happens to adults. Jack is a kid who believes in the good – the good that is in all people. And though his world has dismissed and discarded Joseph, he hasn’t. The story has a sad ending (though of course I won’t give that away), but it somehow seems uplifting. Gary Schmidt has won two Newbury Medals, and it’s no wonder. This is such a great story – I’m now putting his other books on my TBR list!