This page-turner bridges middle-grade and young adult. In his short novel published in 2017, Newberry award-winning author professor at Calvin Collge in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Gary D. Schmidt, has created two compelling young protagonists—fourteen-year-old Joseph Brook and twelve-year-old Jack Hurd. I say Orbiting Jupiter bridges these two audiences, not because of the spread in the boys’ ages, but because of the complexities and mature content that would easily appeal to high school and also adult readers, despite the young ages of the main characters. This is a story of acceptance, family values, perseverance, and second chances.
Joseph Brook is an eighth-grader who by the age of thirteen has already fathered a child. He moves in with the Hurd family when they benevolently agree to take on Joseph as a foster child with all the ramifications of this youngster’s past. That means their only-child Jack will finally have a companion and have someone with whom to share the chores around their Maine farm. Jack is only a sixth-grader and Joseph is not exactly ready to slip into the role of a brother because he comes with a lot of baggage that needs careful unpacking. He is consumed by his passion for reuniting with his precious daughter Jupiter whom he is forbidden to see.
The Hurd family takes Joseph under its wing and Jack goes out on a limb risking ridicule by his friends, some of whom target Joseph, bully him and start a fight. He also refuses to heed the warnings from some of the adults at school who caution him to steer clear of this troubled youth. Joseph is not totally ostracized, Coach Swieteck and the English teacher have faith in his abilities and support Joseph in catching up academically.
It’s no wonder this book stays at the top of Amazon’s charts. Readers of all ages will fall in love with this book and root the boys on as they figure out how to adjust to one another and navigate the perimeters of what is expected of them and what is the right thing to do. I don’t want to spoil it all for you, but the story does take a dark turn toward violence when we least expect it, but never in a gratuitous manner.
Readers will find that Schmidt is an accomplished writer who not only brings compassion to the difficulties these two boys grapple but also draws the parents as full charters unto themselves who are equally challenged by the events that impact their decisions. Animal lovers will thoroughly enjoy how tending to the farm animals and milking the cows is a vehicle for tapping into Joseph’s true self and acts as a vehicle for tempering his troubled soul.