Friday, October 02, 2015

Starcrossed: Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

I got on the bus and Joseph got on behind me, and Mr. Haskell looked past me and said, "You're the kid who has a kid, aren't you?" and Joseph stopped dead on the bus steps. "I couldn't believe it when Mr. Canton told us. Aren't you a little young?"

Joseph turned around and got off the bus.

"Hey, If you want to walk, it's no skin off my nose. Two miles that way. And--What do you think you're doing?"

That part was to me, because I got off the bus too.

"You're nuts," said Mr. Haskell. "It's twenty-one degrees out there." He closed the door.

The bus was nothing but rising exhaust down the road.

Joseph took off his backpack. It was pretty much empty, since he hadn't gotten any books yet.

"Give me some of your stuff," he said. We took off, two miles, and it wasn't any twenty-one degrees.

Jack is twelve, an only child, a long, cold bus ride from the local middle school, and his family, committed to sustainable organic farming in rural Maine, only attend the local church twice a year, Christmas Eve and Easter morning. So Jack is quietly glad when Joseph comes to be his foster brother. But Joseph Brooks is damaged goods, obviously horribly abused by his father, and yet a father himself, with his newborn child and her mother taken away by her family. Wracked with grief over the loss of Madeline and baby Jupiter, his only real family, Joseph has tried to choke a juvenile officer and refused to speak in three months of juvenile custody.

For Joseph, school is hard, and the school bus unbearable.

Joseph trusts no one, seemingly unreachable. But when Jack's father gives him the job of milking one of their cows, Rosie, the cow somehow seems to trust him.

The next morning, when the three of us went out to the big barn to milk, Joseph went to Rosie first, and he reached out and rubbed her rump again. And Rosie mooed and swayed her behind, and told Joseph she loved him.

"I don't need the milk," said my father. "But she needs you to milk her."

That was the first time I saw Joseph smile. Sort of.

Jack counts the smiles as he and Joseph slowly begin to become friends and then, in their way, brothers, trudging two miles together to and from school, milking in the barn, gradually feeling free to throw shovelsful of snow at each other, and one day Joseph finally laughs. Joseph finds two teachers--a math teacher who begins to teach him trigonometry, and a gym coach who gives Joseph a group of kids to teach rope-climbing. He even begins to tease Jack, calling him "Jackie" just to get him riled. And Jack defends him against the kids at school who call him "Psycho."

"I had his back and he had mine."

And the day the pond freezes and Jack's parents skate and build a bonfire, Joseph tells his whole story and how he is determined someday to find Maddie and baby Jupiter.

But just as Joseph's precarious trust is beginning to take root, he learns that Madeline died in childbirth and that her parents are determined to have Jupiter adopted. To make his pain worse, Joseph, as the surviving parent, is asked to sign the adoption papers. In an emotional state as cold as outer space, Joseph's connections to his foster family fracture like the new ice on the pond, and he heads for the nearby town where the baby is being fostered, determined to see her. Jack's family set out, again in the snow, to find Joseph and bring him home. They find him in front of the house of the social worker who is keeping Jupiter, and although by court order she cannot let him see her, she gives him a photo of his daughter and promises to tell her about her father someday.

But Joseph's dark past proves not even to be past when his own crazed father shows up and takes him away at gunpoint into a snowstorm.

Two-time Newbery author Gary D. Schmidt's Orbiting Jupiter (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2015) tells the tragic story of a character seemingly born under a bad star. Related by Jack, there is only spare dialogue in this novel, the narration unfolding mostly in Jack's first-person thoughts as he counts up Joseph's smiles, the last one when he sees his daughter Jupiter's picture. Joseph's story--one of his own father, whose love is selfishly twisted, and his own love for his daughter--leads to a conclusion that is not one that readers will welcome or would have wanted. It is what it is, sadly, But there is for Jack's family and Jupiter a foreshadowed and redemptive ending that affirms the power of family love that can be lasting.

No one writes more movingly and honestly about adolescent boys than Schmidt, and he has upheld his standing as a premier writer of young adult fiction in this beautiful, heartbreaking but bravely life-affirming novel.

Schmidt's earlier Newbery Honor-winning novels are Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and The Wednesday Wars, and he is also the author of Okay for Now, a National Book Award finalist.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home