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Friday, January 8, 2016

Powerful Novel by Gary Schmidt!

Schmidt, Gary D. (2015)  Orbiting Jupiter.  New York: Clarion.

Opening Lines: "Before you agree to have Joseph come live with you," Mrs. Stroud said, "there are one or two things you ought to understand."  She took out a State of Maine Department of Heath and Human Services folder and laid it on the kitchen table."

The social worker warns Jack (and his parents) that his new foster brother might have some problems.  It turns out that Joseph has served time in two different juvenile  halls, while in one he tried to kill a teacher, and even though he like Jack, is in middle school, Joseph has another thing that makes him different.  Joseph has a three month old daughter that he has never seen.

When I first read this book, I was looking for a powerful voice like the one in Schmidt's Okay for Now.  The power of this book, though is more subtle, so much so that you almost don't notice it.  As you follow Joseph and how he is at the same time enfolded into his new foster family, and further separated from his daughter who he desperately wants to see, the story gets more and more powerful.
There are also some absolutely delightful connections to Schmidt's earlier books.  And like Schmidt's earlier books, this one does a great job of immersing the reader in a community.  But none of that is what makes the book great.

Um,  Actually, I don't know why it's such a good book.  I could say it has something to do with the themes of borkenness and grace.  I could say that it rings true.  I would say that it is an emotionally powerful book, but all of those ways of describing it fall short.  It is a book that has a lot to say about what love is.  But that sounds ridiculous.  Look, bottom line, you are just gong to have to read it.

This is a tricky one in terms of whether you can put it in your classroom library.  The fact is, the main character and a girl his age have sex, and though that action is not described in the book, one of the questions the book asks is whether two kids that young can really feel love for each other.  The book also asks whether we could allow such a person as Joseph to have a part in the raising of his daughter.  I think this is a book that should be in classrooms, probably starting at middle school, but some parents might object to it on the grounds that it is introducing children to ideas they should not be thinking about.  Having read the book, I would have no hestitaiton about my 6th grade daughter reading it, but I can respect parents who feel differently, and teachers should be aware of that possibility.

Still, even if you can't put this book in your classroom, you ought to read it.  You'd really like it.


  1. I completely agree that it is hard to describe why this book is so powerful, but I think that when you said it rings true that it comes closest. This books is fantastic. Perhaps his best?

  2. As if I need more persuading to read Gary Schmidt. Can't wait.