Orbiting Jupiter

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Orbiting Jupiter Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Devastating, deeply moving story of love and resilience.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 10 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 26 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Offers a glimpse of social services and the challenges of helping children in need. 

Positive Messages

Life can be messy, hard, and bitterly disappointing, but there's always good in the world and it's worth fighting for. Investing time, attention, and love in other people can turn a life around. Be careful of judging people based on rumors and what you think you know about them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Joseph is resolute in his devotion to the baby daughter he's never seen, and he insists that he has an important role as her father despite his age. Jack welcomes Joseph into the family and is on his side from the start, making personal sacrifices to help Joseph settle in and find his place. Several empathetic adults, including teachers and his foster parents, go out of their way to support and encourage Joseph. 


Menacing bullies, a harrowing close call in an icy river, a horrific death, and a brutal, bloody fight.


Eighth-grader who fathered a child tells about relationship with girl, but sexual encounters aren't explicitly described.


Coarse language used in anger and stress: "hell," "hellhole," and "nuts." Bullies call boy "Psycho."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drunk man threatens others and causes serious harm.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Orbiting Jupiter is a heartrendingly tragic -- yet stubbornly hopeful -- novel by Newbery Honor-winning author Gary D. Schmidt (The Wednesday Wars). The teenage father faces judgmental treatment and rude comments in his new community, and he's targeted by a trio of bullies. Some adults dismiss him as the kind of trouble that drags down "good" kids, but a few teachers treat him with respect and kindness. The relationship that led to his daughter's birth is described warmly but with no details regarding sexual behavior. Several characters face perilous situations, including an unstable person wielding a gun and a dangerous river, and there's a violent death.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAbby H. February 16, 2018

Dear curious reader or over protective parent:

I have read a few reviews from parents who say this book is "too mature" for their precious and naive offspring and say this book is "poorly writ... Continue reading
Adult Written byHamrick August 11, 2020
Teen, 14 years old Written bykayleenalexa November 9, 2016

The Best Book I've Ever Read!

As a teen myself, I believe this book is the best book for teens of 2016. This book has an amazing message! I recommend it for teens 13+. It is a must read. Its... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old May 31, 2016

I loved this book!

This book was so good. The writing was really good and the story engaging. There is next to no language in this book, hell is used once or twice. A man who smel... Continue reading

What's the story?

Jack is 12 when his family takes in Joseph, a 14-year-old kid in foster care who fathered a child and was sent to a detention center for assaulting a teacher. Joseph doesn't like to be touched or to have anyone stand behind him, and he smiles so rarely Jack can count each time. Classmates and adults hear about Joseph's history before they meet him, and many have made up their minds. Bullies call him "Psycho," and the vice principal says he's trouble and that he'll drag Jack down with him. But Jack sees a softer side to Joseph, and a few teachers recognize a gifted student who'd thrive with a little extra attention -- even go to college. But no one believes Joseph can get what he really wants: to be with his baby daughter.

Is it any good?

Don't underestimate this book's spare writing and slim size: Your heart will ache for author Gary Scmidt's taciturn young Joseph long before you begin to understand his suffering. ORBITING JUPITER echoes the bleak tones of Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome and ramps up tragedy to a Shakespearean scale. It stops short of hurtling over the to edge, thanks to empathetic, quietly remarkable characters drawn in quick but telling strokes.

Schmidt carefully crafts a portrait of a boy doing his best in bad circumstances and the people who recognize his worth and go out on a limb to help him. The grim events ultimately point to a hopeful and inspiring message of love and community.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way violence is presented. This book has a brutal scene and hints at many others. How does the violence compare with, say, that in an action movie or comic book? Does the way violence is depicted affect how you feel about it? (For help, see our articles on discussing violence in media.)

  • Who are the upstanders in Joseph's life, and how do they support him?

  • Do you know a kid who reminds you of Joseph, who tends to be dismissed by other kids and adults? Taking a page from Joseph's teachers, think about that kid's strengths and positive assets. Consider what difficulties that kid might have endured.

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

Themes & Topics

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