I’ve written my review of Gary D. Schmidt’s new book, Orbiting Jupiter, several times in my brain, only to lack the time to actually sit down and compose it on my blog. Now that I’m sitting down to compose, I hardly know where to start. First, let me say that I’m a fan of Gary D. Schmidt, through and through. (Recognize that allusion? Heh heh heh.) When I read Sherry’s review at Semicolon, I knew I had to read it. I’ve never read a book by Schmidt that didn’t get me in the heart. Well, this one is no different, except that in the tear-jerker caregory, it gets top billing over all his books. (And that’s saying something.) Oh, my.
It’s a difficult story, no doubt about that. It’s the story of a boy named Jackson Hurd who lives with his parents on their dairy farm in Maine. At the beginning of the story the family takes in a foster child, Joseph, who is a couple of years older than twelve year old Jackson. Joseph’s history is chock-full of the misery of adolescent choices gone bad and “discipline” gone even worse. Add to that equation an alcoholic father who most definitely doesn’t have his son’s best interest at heart, and the situation is ripe for heartbreak. The Hurd family steps in and becomes just that to Joseph–a family. He goes from being withdrawn and reactive to smiling enough times by three-fourths of the way through the book that Jackson, who’s counting, loses count. Joseph’s one goal in life is to meet his baby daughter, Jupiter, who is the fruit of some of those adolescent bad choices (and, by the way, the choices seem like the only good thing in Joseph’s life to him, and indeed, quite possibly were) and who, because of the “discipline” he has undergone, is, apparently lost to him forever. The Hurds “have his back,” though, and eventually support his attempt at the impossible. And with their support, the impossible becomes . . . possible. This is one of those book with an ending that comes out of nowhere and punches the reader in the gut, and it’s one that left me emotionally shaken. All I can say is this: read it.
I think this is Gary D. Schmidt’s redemption for all the bad (clueless, selfish, tyrannical, uncaring) fathers he has written over the years in his other books. Jackson Hurd’s father, Joseph’s foster father–he gets it right, and it makes a huge difference. I love that. Here are some other things that I love about this book:
- I love that it tackles difficult subjects–teenage parenthood, juvenile delinquency, poor parenting, substance abuse, foster care–without anything explicit at all. Some might say that it glorifies teen parenthood because Joseph never “sees the error of his ways,” but I’d say to that what fourteen-year-old boy or girl would want the consequences Joseph experiences? What it does do is paint a real picture of the difficulties of life, but in a way that is full of grace and redemption. There’s nothing in it (aside from the mature subject matter) that would prevent me from handing it off to my ten year old. I haven’t, but only because I think it might take more emotional maturity to “get it.”
- I love (LOVE LOVE LOVE) that Schmidt places some of the characters (or relatives of characters?) from his other books set in the 1960s and ’70s in this one. To meet them again, often kinder and gentler–’tis sweet.
- I love that Joseph reads M.T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing in this novel. I don’t know if this is a thematic nod or if Schmidt is merely a fan of Anderson’s or if this is some sort of authorial inside joke (my guess is the former, though the other two are possible, also). Whatever it is, it’s a nice touch.
- I love that the heroes of this story are foster parents, a twelve year old boy, a pastor, a librarian, and some cows. I mean, can it get any better than that?
If I haven’t convinced you to read this one yet, here is a short excerpt that I hope will tip the scales in its favor:
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.
When my father put his hand on Joseph’s back, Joseph didn’t even flinch. (114-15)
This book will definitely make my top picks list of the year; it quite possibly might be top of the list. (Clarion, 2015)
- My review of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt (audiobook)
- My review of Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
- My review of The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (audiobook review here)
- Read the first chapter of Orbiting Jupiter here!
- A short interview with Gary D. Schmidt about the novel: