The Wednesday Wars was an unexpectedly moving delight when I read it. Part of the joy from reading it was that it wasn’t like most other books out there. It felt new and exciting, and when it went for your tear ducts it really earned the tears.
Unfortunately, Orbiting Jupiter doesn’t have any of the same novelty going for it. Schmidt, a two-time Newbery Honor winner (one of those for Wednesday Wars) is still a uniquely affecting writer, but even he can only do so much with a story you feel like you’ve read many, many times before. You know where things are headed from the moment you get the premise: Jack, an open-minded and good-hearted kid, gets a troubled foster brother named Joseph. Joseph almost killed a teacher, was held in a place called Stone Mountain, and has an infant daughter he has never met.
You pretty much know that Joseph is going to be a much better guy than the world is trying to make him out to be, and if it would only give him a chance he might be able to catch a break. Jack will learn to stand up for his foster brother and try to help him get that chance, but it will be hard because the world is going to continue to be cruel and uncaring. It will be heartwarming and heartbreaking… or it would if this story didn’t feel so predictable and cliched. And if it wasn’t so slender. At 183 pages, personal growth and tragedy has to happen at a rapid clip. Schmidt is a good enough writer to know not to rush things, and he earns the moments he does get, but nothing really lands quite as well or as hard as it should.
Given how much I adored The Wednesday Wars, this was a disappointment, but I’m not giving up. Wednesday was so bold and original that Schmidt can be forgiven for hewing to the tried-and-true here, but I think I like him best when he’s daring to be different.
As part of my mission statement, I am obligated to tell you that I got an advanced reader’s copy of this book for free from Amazon’s Vine program in exchange for a review.