Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt (2015)

orbThe tough subject of middle school parenthood is explored with tenderness and grace in this simple and devastating novel.

Recommended grade level: 6-10

Pages: 192 (for ISBN 9780544462229)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fictionreluctant readers

Tone/Style: spare, serious

Pace: fast

Topics: teenage fatherhood, foster families, separation from family

Themes: grief, protecting those you care about, love, regaining something that was lost, reuniting families, creating family, searching for normalcy, difficult past experiences

Summary: The two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt delivers the shattering story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. After spending time in a juvenile facility, he’s placed with a foster family on a farm in rural Maine. Here Joseph, damaged and withdrawn, meets twelve-year-old Jack, who narrates the account of the troubled, passionate teen who wants to find his baby at any cost. In this riveting novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family and the sacrifices it requires. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Simply told yet packed with complex emotion, this is a good choice for readers who want a story that makes them feel deeply and don’t mind going through a tissue box or two. Short and simply written, it should appeal to reluctant readers.

Who won’t like this book?:  Some parents and readers may  take issue with the concept of a young teen father (though the book avoids mature content; see Other Comments section below). The book has a quiet, contemplative feel, so readers seeking action may be bored. Avoid giving it to readers who don’t want anything sad.

Other comments: I’ve heard several librarians express surprise that a book with this subject matter was written for such a young audience, but Schmidt handles it with remarkable grace. There is no direct reference to the sex that obviously occurred. Joseph mentions getting under a blanket with the mother of his child after being out in the cold, and we can assume this is when it happened, but it’s only a very gentle implication.Aside from that there’s nothing scandalous in this book (unless you count an abusive father and crippling reader heartbreak). Personally, I’d be comfortable giving this to a sixth grader.


Readalikes: The First Part Last by Jacqueline Woodson is another book about a single teen father (recommended for mature, older middle schoolers). I don’t think anyone besides Schmidt has written a book about teen parenthood for such a young age.  Got one I haven’t thought of? Put it in the comments!


Image credit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23714521-orbiting-jupiter

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