Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

 

‘Maybe angels aren’t always meant to stop bad things.’
‘So what good are they?’
‘To be with us when bad things happen.’
Joseph looked at him.
‘Then where the hell were they?’ he said.
I thought Reverend Ballou was going to start bawling.

And so marked the first time I started crying at this book. 

I loved this book for many reasons. Partly because it was a story about redemption, but not in the usual way. On the surface it was a story about Joseph, a fourteen year old boy in foster care after juvenile prison, redeeming himself in the eyes of his peers and teachers. But I think Jack sums it up when he wishes his vice principal could see that Joseph wasn’t like that. He’s fighting against what the adults around him think of him and I think it’s an important message that actually, it’s an adult’s job to try and see the good in every child.

Joseph’s story is tragic from beginning to end and, told from the point of view of 12 year old Jack, we get a naive vision of that tragedy. We’re spared the grim details of Joseph’s past, sent out to the milk barn with Jack whenever adult discussions are going on, but it doesn’t make the story any more upsetting. Nor is it not uplifting at the same time. I cried just as much whenever Joseph’s teachers reached out and showed him he had a future.

Ultimately it’s a story about love and what it can do for us. All kinds of love from all kinds of people in our lives. It’s about the families we forge and the bonds that we make without coercion and how strong those bonds can be. It’s a book that I think could ring true for a lot of young people, no matter their circumstances. 

It makes me want to go and give my own 12 year old brother a hug and tell him how much I love him. And then tell him to read it too.

Orbiting Jupiter is published 31st December 2015. I received an early copy through Netgalley.

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