Orbiting Jupiter is the fist of Gary D. Schmidt’s novels that I’ve read but I really enjoyed it and would definitely like to read something else by him in the future.
A heartbreaking story, narrated by twelve-year-old Jack, whose family is caring for fourteen-year-old Joseph. Joseph is misunderstood. He was incarcerated for trying to kill a teacher. Or so the rumours say. But Jack and his family see something others in town don’t want to.
What’s more, Joseph has a daughter he’s never seen. The two boys go on a journey through the bitter Maine winter to help Joseph find his baby – no matter the cost.
Orbiting Jupiter was a strange read for me because for much of this book I was unsure about whether or not I was enjoying it. The plot features some very difficult storylines surrounding children (depression, abuse, pregnancy, death) and a lot of it made me feel really uncomfortable and uneasy. Despite this I couldn’t put this book down. It was hard, and painful in parts, to read yet I found myself persisting because I had to know what happened next. In that sense, I would definitely compare this to Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It, which is a very honest story about rape.
The themes explored in this book are common of Young Adult fiction, but the young age of the main characters made this a much more hard-hitting story than most. Family and what we perceive the definition of it to be is a key theme in Orbiting Jupiter, and I really loved the way that this was explored. Fourteen year old Joseph hasn’t ever had a good relationship with his father and is devastated that he himself has been forced to become an absent father to his daughter Jupiter. Hearing his story was really interesting and unusual, and I think that Gary D. Schmidt wrote Joseph really well – this is a story that I can’t personally relate to and yet I didn’t ever feel alienated by Joseph’s experiences.
I also loved reading about the relationship between Jack and Joseph and I loved that their bond was portrayed so honestly. I particularly liked that even with very little dialogue between the two, you had enough information to understand their feelings exactly. Often YA fiction is very female centred and this story was a welcome change.
Orbiting Jupiter is a heartbreaking and painful story, but I think it provides an important message about young parents, in particular young fathers. Despite feeling that the ending was a little rushed, I highly recommend this to people looking for something a bit darker than most contemporary YA.