For some unknown-to-me reason, I had Gary Paulsen mixed up with Gary Schmidt. Not anymore. Paulsen writes fabulous coming-of-age-out-in-the-wilderness books that I love. Schmidt writes stuff like Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars. Totally different writing genres, styles, and more. I dunno, maybe it was the Gary thing. Orbiting Jupiter helped clarify things in my confused mind.
The cover photo of a teen walking away from the camera into dense fog with arms flying tilted through the air seemed intriguing at first. Now I get it: it is the perfect photo for this book. Disequilibrium seems to follow Jack after a new foster brother Joseph arrives at his family’s farm. Joseph enters the story surly and difficult, unapproachable and stand-offish. Jack tries and tries but can’t figure out how to get into Joseph’s vision of living. So Jack just waits. They ride the school bus together until some bully of a schoolmate lays down some smack about Joseph’s past (something about trying to kill a teacher). Joseph decides to walk to school in the frozen winter climate, and younger Jack follows suit. On the farm, Jack watches Joseph slowly acquire milking skills under Jack’s dads’ tutelage. But it is Joseph’s frequent nightmares and sleep-talking that most confuses Jack. Jack knows only a little about his new bunkmates’ history, and Joseph sure isn’t offering any stories to anyone. Heck, Joseph hardly ever smiles. In time, Jack figures out who Joseph calls out to in his sleep and who he longingly looks out the window for. It is a story worth reading, especially since that person is not who you think it is.
Schmidt builds his characters in fabulous ways, and I found myself visualizing the scenes frequently. This is a solid read, and I look forward to reading more from this popular author. However Orbiting Jupiter for sure stands alone.