Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt, a review

Sometimes I stray from my core mission of reviewing middle grade novels. This novel is almost a middle-grade novel. After all, its narrator is twelve, perfect for middle grade. But the real protagonist is thirteen or fourteen, a boy who’s already lived enough grief–and joy–for a lifetime. So I guess it’s young adult.

Gary D. Schmidt, Newbery-Award-winning Christian author, is one of my favorite middle-grade writers. In this contemporary tale set on a small farm in Maine, a family of three sets out to help a troubled kid. That kid is Joseph, who has an abusive father. Joseph’s a prickly individual, surly or silent. Under the influence of a drug someone gave him, he once tried to kill a teacher. The family, including 12-year-old Jack, accepts him anyway.

But something really sets Joseph apart from other troubled kids: he is himself a father.

He’s never seen his infant daughter. And he’s willing to risk everything to find her.

This is his heart-wrenching story. I enjoyed reading it and highly recommend it. I want to particularly point out the “voice” of Jack the narrator, which is so spare as to be Hemingway-esque. He’s doing things that show his feelings, rather than immersing the reader in talking about them. This is unusual for a first-person tale these days.

I watched a video interview of the author, a professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, who said the story is based on a real family on a farm in Maine. This family takes in troubled kids–and presumably asks them to milk a cow.

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    1. Patti Abbott says

      So hard to imagine being a father at fourteen. I respect him for feeling a responsibility to the child but wonder if his insertion into the child’s life at this point is helpful. Maybe down the road.

    2. It’s unbelievably complicated! But it’s a great book, and I hope you check it out.

    3. Yes, mind blowing to think of a 14-year-old father, but of course, not impossible. What an admirable family to take in troubled kids.

      It’s also unusual these days to have a narrator who is not the main character. Shades of the Great Gatsby.


    4. Thank you!

    5. Topics for teens and youth today are so different from what I remember. – Margy

    6. So true, Margy!

    7. So glad you reviewed this book. It’s in my TBR pile. I’m looking forward to reading it.And I will watch for how the author shows Jack’s feelings. Thanks for the tip!

    8. Wow. My girlfriend dropped out of school in gr. 11 to have a child. It was an awful time.

    9. We do need more books that bridge the gap between MG and YA. This one sounds like a good one. I have so much admiration for foster families.

    10. So hard.

    11. This is a good one.