A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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.
- Author: Gary D. Schmidt
- Genre: Family Life
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Clarion Books
- Publication date: October 6, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 192
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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