I was very much looking forward to Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt because I generally really enjoy Gary Scmidt's books. After reading the first chapter, I was certain that this one would wreck me emotionally. Possibly more than any other. I wasn't wrong. But I also wasn't right. I was expecting a good sort of emotionally destroyed. A Code Name Verity type of emotionally destroyed. That's not what I got.
Jack lives a quiet sheltered life on his parents' farm in Maine until his family takes in a 14 year old foster kid named Joseph. Joseph became a father at 13 and was sent to a Juvenile Detention Center. Broken and sad, Joseph's one dream is to be reunited with his infant daughter, Jupiter. Jack's life is changed by seeing his school, town, and life in general through Joseph's eyes.
The harsh events of Joseph's life is all too realistic. He is an abused child who was screwed over by the system on pretty much every level imaginable. He is incredibly smart particularly when it comes to Math. He really and truly loved Jupiter's mom and only wants to take care of his baby.
Jack is greatly impacted by the tragedy in Joseph's life. He wants to be his friend and have his back. He stands up for him at school and tries to keep him from getting hurt. He is haunted by the words Joseph speaks during his nightmares at night. The relationship that develops between the two of them is an interesting one. Joseph is not really sure what to do with Jack at first, but he begins to share parts of his life with him and give him advice.
While I found all of the events of Orbiting Jupiter to be incredibly realistic, I can not say the same for the characters. There are far too many perfect people inhabiting this book. And the characters who aren't perfect are horribly cliché in their awfulness. Jack and his parents are amazing, and there are truly amazing foster families in this world. I know. I'm friends with many of them, but no one is perfect. Everyone has their breaking points and resentments in these situations. That none of them ever came out made it hard to swallow. Then there is Joseph himself who is not responsible for pretty much any of the terrible that has befallen him. He got a girl pregnant. Her parents were displeased. Everything else is not on him. The book goes out of its way to make him a helpless innocent victim of the system. This is particularly annoying given the conclusion of the book. I would say more about why this bothers me, but can't due to spoilers. In the end I found the book to be emotionally manipulative rather than emotive.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Clarion Books, via Edelweiss. Orbiting Jupiter goes on sale October 6th.