Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Orbiting Jupiter

I’m a sucker for almost anything by Gary D. Schmidt. Other than First Boy, which I thought was kind of lame (and never bothered to review), I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by him. Lizzy Bright and the Buckminster Boy and Okay For Now were both amazing, but my favorite was The Wednesday Wars. When I finished I wanted to shout "Chrysanthemum!" (If you’ve read it, you’ll understand.)

Schmidt's latest book, Orbiting Jupiter, is a little closer to Lizzie Bright in tone, except with a modern setting and situation. Jack, a 12 year old boy, lives with his parents on a farm in New Hampshire, and they’ve just taken in a troubled 14 year old boy named Joseph. Joseph got into some trouble that landed him in a youth correctional facility where he tried to strangle a teacher. But Joseph’s troubles surround his daughter – yes, Joseph became a father at 13. Her name is Jupiter and he’s never seen her, but he desperately wants to!

My fear was that Schmidt was trying to write 'John Green' – you know, the troubled and damaged young person(s) yearning for understanding and validation? But Schmidt handle’s a potentially touchy topic with perfect tact; the book never becomes maudlin or mushy and avoids the crassness and foul language that peppers so much of YA these days. And his writing is perfectly beautiful, almost poetic.
“Sometimes miracles are all around you... Sometimes they come big and loud, I guess - but I've never seen one of those. I think probably most miracles are a lot smaller, and sort of still, and so quiet, you could miss them.”
But with Schmidt it’s all about the characters. You can’t help but LOVE Jack and Joseph, Jack’s parents, several of the more understanding teachers at school, and even the cows! This is a short book but the reader is drawn into it at light speed (I nearly read it in a single sitting). A warning, however: Schmidt is not one to write a pat ending where everything works out perfectly. Instead, he mixes the bitter and the sweet in a way that the rest of my family never finds entirely satisfying, and you might want a box of tissues handy. For me, the ending kind of wilted the ‘Chrysanthemums!’ I was about to offer. But it's still a very good book. (I received an advance copy from the Amazon Vine program.)

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