Cirrus’s Book Club: Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary D. Schidt

No gay content in this novel – but it features teenage (and almost teenage) boys, plus it’s good.

Fair warning: keep the tissues handy. This book is incredibly sad.

Narrated by 12 year old Jack, it tells the story of 14 year old Joseph, who comes to stay on Jack’s dairy farm as a foster child. Emotionally and physically damaged by a stay in a juvenile prison, Joseph wants nothing more than to see the daughter he’s never met.

It’s clear from the very first chapter that Joseph has suffered, but just how much isn’t revealed until halfway through the book, when the full story of how Joseph ended up in Stone Mountain is revealed. It’s not all unrelenting gloom; Jack’s parents are amazingly sympathetic and empathetic, and as the book progresses, you can see Joseph begin to imagine a future he never considered possible. The story is set in winter in Maine, and frankly you can feel cold just reading it at times…

It’s a fast read, and told with admirable economy at times. In the first chapter Joseph’s social worker tells Jack’s family “He won’t wear orange. He won’t let anyone touch him. Don’t stand behind him,” and it’s you need to know that some Bad Stuff Went Down at Stone Mountain.

I’m going to talk about the ending a bit (in a way that’s as non-spoilery as I can). The book features an absolutely heartbreaking climax… followed by a kind of happy denouement that sits kind of uneasily next to the chapter that proceeded. “Oh? Solving all the problems was that easy? If so… WHY DID YOU DO WHAT YOU JUST DID?” It was a story where the author had the choice between the happy and the sad ending, and chose the sad ending but not all the way.

It’s a moving book, and I recommend it. But if you’re like me, you may find yourself nashing your teeth at how the author chose to end the story.

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