Review: Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Redefining the fine line between childhood and adulthood.

Publication date: 31st December 2015
Publisher: Andersen Press

I’d heard a lot about Orbiting Jupiter before I read it. A Bookseller ‘book to look out for in January’, and concerned with such an unusual and moving topic, I decided to stray into the realm of YA – despite being a picture book gal myself. I was most certainly rewarded for it.

Orbiting Jupiter is the kind of novel you can read on the tiny screen of your mobile phone, and still be moved to tears on a train surrounded by strangers. Tenderly written, and without overuse of cliche, Schmidt vividly recreates the intensity of young love and demonstrates the agelessness of grief.

Joseph, having been released from prison for attempted murder, and a young father at 14, is accepted into a foster family to avoid his own abusive father. Jackson, his foster brother, takes to him and supports him while the ‘other kids’ at school – and even some of the teachers – seek to avoid the strange and apparently dangerous teen. Joseph is able to open up about – yet never quite escape – his troubled past. This is a novel about loyalty and acceptance; about never giving up.

The reader is constantly in an emotional conflict over wanting to dismiss Joseph’s desires as childish, and the reality of not being able to understand the 14-year-old’s own turmoil, so beyond the common reader’s experience. The characters are relatable and well-constructed, though perhaps the lack of fear from the foster family, the Hurds, is unrealistic in the face of a convicted criminal. For me, there were moments when the optimism afforded by the unconditional kindness shown by the Hurds, and the utter despair when contemplating Joseph’s troubled life, jarred uncomfortably. However, overall the novel has a resounding impact, and one which has stayed with me, so perhaps this contrast is exactly the kind of magical realism the novel needs in order to come together.

As is, perhaps, to be expected, the question of abortion is never brought up. In order to avoid spoilers, I won’t go into detail, but the complications – which are hardly surprising with such a young pregnancy – are presented as inevitable and the parents of the girl are quick to condemn the boy, rather than take a look at the choices they themselves made. Considering the topic will generally appeal to young readers who are old enough to be aware of the procedure, it was certainly confusing that it was never mentioned once, regardless of any moral stance on the part of the author or characters.

I would recommend it to any adult who has ever considered the gulf between children and adults to be insurmountable, or who has lamented the fact that some think it is. For young adults, I would recommend it to those wishing to challenge their preconceptions and glimpse a past of the differences and universalities of human experience.

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