Book review: Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

WARNING: this book will break your heart.

I wasn’t sure about Orbiting Jupiter when I first picked it up as part of the Zoella Book Club 2017. The blurb on the back doesn’t really to do it justice, making it sound a bit mundane but that isn’t the case at all. I started reading in bed, planning just to scan a few pages before going to sleep and ended up staying up until I’d finished (at only 183 pages, it still wasn’t a particularly late night).

Our narrator, Jack, is a sixth grade boy (about 11 years old) whose parents have decided to foster Joseph (aged 13), following his release from a juvenile detention centre. Joseph nearly killed a teacher in a rage at his last school and is treated with distrust in his new town, not least because they know that he has a baby daughter that he isn’t allowed to see. As the two boys grow closer and Joseph begins to trust his new family, we understand more about his past and it becomes clear that things are not quite as cut and dry as they may first seem.

I desperately want to be able to jump into this book and protect Joseph and Jack from harm. Jack’s innocence and desire to be a brother to Joseph – standing up for him when nobody else will – is so touching and pure. He is just what Joseph needs, who’s start in life has been harsh and unforgiving. The development of the relationship between the two characters is truly heart-warming. I rejoiced with Jack every time Joseph smiled or didn’t flinch at a touch.

The plot is shocking – abuse, underage sex, bullying and death are all covered – don’t let the ages of the main characters fool you into thinking this is a book for younger readers; adult themes are tackled head on in a matter-of-fact style. Even at the ripe old age of 31, I was so affected by Joseph and Jack’s story that it was a couple of days after I had finished before I could really discuss it with anyone.

What shook me the most (and is getting to me again as I write this review), is the injustice in people’s treatment of Joseph. He is abused, judged and punished based on a set of facts that it becomes increasingly apparent do not tell the whole story. He is made a victim by the very adults and systems that should be protecting and helping him, and it scares me that this is/could be happening in the real world. It makes me want to make it stop.

I rarely have such a strong reaction to a book, and I cannot recommend this one enough. I love it. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about your inevitable broken heart!

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