Schmidt, Gary D. Orbiting Jupiter. Clarion, 2015.
Life has not been easy for fourteen-year-old Joseph Brook. He has endured abuse by his alcoholic father, a placing in a group home setting, life at a juvenile detention center, and worse of all, incarceration in a high-security prison, where other inmates abused him. As a last resort, a social worker places him with the Hurd family, who lives on a farm in Maine. Joseph joins twelve-year-old Jack, who had been adopted by the Hurds some years previously.
Because of what Joseph has been through, he some strange idiosyncrasies. He won’t wear anything orange, let anyone stand behind him, let anyone touch him, go into rooms that are too small, or eat canned peaches. And one more thing--he’s a father to a baby girl who is named Jupiter, and more than anything else in the world, he wants to find her.
Joseph has to keep overcoming obstacles and fighting back but has finally reached a point where two loving adults and a boy who “has his back” believe in him and provide a nurturing environment. Just when things start to turn the corner, Joseph has to face his past and figure out how to protect his future.
I love male protagonists, and this novel has two outstanding ones in Jack and Joseph. Our narrator, Jack, tells the story as only a young boy could. He and the rest of his family are accepting, loving, down-to-earth people who truly care for Joseph. They welcome Joseph into their family with open arms and provide the kind of family life that he has always needed. Even when situations become rough, the family continues to lift him up.
Although Joseph has had a hard life, he has a huge heart and is unusually forgiving. He is intelligent, has a natural ability for mathematics, and is athletically inclined. It is through Jack’s eyes that readers learn about Joseph’s past and realize that he is wise far beyond his fourteen years.
Orbiting Jupiter is not all serious. From day one, Joseph is expected to do chores around the farm just like Jack and his dad. Joseph learns you can tell a lot about a person the way cows acts around him. The Hurd family cows, especially Rosie, take a shine to Joseph, but he learns that milking a cow is not as easy as it looks!
Gary Schmidt has written an endearing novel about acceptance, healing, and the ability to overcome life’s obstacles. Make sure you have a box of tissues when you read it! Although I highly recommend it for middle school and public libraries, older readers will also enjoy it. I give it five out of five fleur de lis!