Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt Book Review

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: October 6, 2015

When fourteen-year-old Joseph comes to live with the Hurds, Twelve-year-old Jack isn't so sure about his new foster brother. He is surly, angry, damaged. Yet, Jack feels an affinity towards the hurt teenager and stands by him even if it means walking the two miles to school in the cold, just so they can avoid the rude bus driver. Even if it means getting into fights. After all, it was four against one. What would you do? As Joseph acclimates to life on a farm with his new foster care family, he begins to open up. His story is one of loss and pain. Joseph's father is abusive. Then Joseph fell in love with a thirteen-year-old girl and before they knew it, she was pregnant. That's when things went crazy. Her parents put a restraining order against him. Joseph's bio dad put him into foster care stating that he couldn't control him anymore. When Joseph tried to see his girlfriend, he was hit with a restraining order. When she had the baby, he wasn't allowed to see it or the love of his life. He was told that being a minor he had no rights and the most loving thing he could do was sign away the rights to his newborn baby daughter, Jupiter. And then Joseph learns even more devastating news that sends him into a tailspin that lands him in Juvie. At this point, Joseph will do anything to see his Jupiter. Anything. Because he is a dad and despite what all the grown-ups in his life seem to think, he loves her with every fiber in his being.

With such a description, one can imagine that this is a rather heartbreaking tale. Everything is against Joseph. No one listens to him, no one seems to care about how he feels, and they invalidate his deep love at every turn. He is quickly labeled a troubled teen. The teachers at his new school see nothing beyond his record at Juvie and his foster care status. None of them know these dark secret that he harbors, nor do any seem to care. The foster care system seem to be cold and callous when it comes to his feelings and seem more concerned about appeasing Jupiter's maternal grandparents than they do about the two teenage parents. It is a tearjerker for sure.

It is also wildly disproportionate in both good and bad ways. The Hurds are angelic and kind. Too angelic and kind. They are the perfect foster family, kind, patient, caring. All the time. Even Jack comes across as this really angelic kid who does nothing wrong. On the other hand, we have Joseph in which it seems like every bad thing that could possibly happen to a kid happens. Abusive father, disconnected from girlfriend, can't see his daughter, forced to give up his rights, no one listens to him, attacks a teacher, end up in Juvie, and even after all of one listens except his foster family and there seems to be absolutely nothing they can do.

As I have said before, because I am in the midst of this adoption/foster care process and know a lot of people who have been through the system, I am perhaps a bit more harsh with these books than I should be. Things have changed a lot over the years and it would be a pretty bad social worker who tells a kid someone died in their life and then didn't tell anyone that this could be the reason he was acting out. Also, Jupiter is also in the foster care system and yet no one, not a single social worker, psychologist, etc. thought that Joseph deserved to at least get a picture of her...or hold her? Every single one thinks that because he is fourteen he has absolutely no right to see his child and that his love is less than simply because of his age? It is disgusting, which is the point I think, but I don't find it credible either. The maternal grandparents have already stated that they are not interested in taking Jupiter and have given up their claim to the child so why do they have such a say in what happens with Joseph? Where are the therapists? And why don't the foster parents have a greater say in what is happening, which they would. Last complaint, I promise, there is no way that Joseph's father would have a visit in the foster parents home when he has already been hostile and shown up unannounced. No way. The supervised visit would be somewhere neutral and safe. But showing up unannounced to the foster parents house would probably have also gotten him a court ordered restraining order. That visit would never have happened.

All in all, this was a tearjerker featuring a really great kid who can not catch a break. There is no real happy ending, because the circumstances around the ending are simply too tragic. If Joseph were a real child, and I know there are many out there like him, he would be the kid who the system failed. I know they exist, but I also know that there are a number of people who care about Joseph, enough that he shouldn't fall through the cracks.