Reader vs. Reader: Orbiting Jupiter

Welcome to the first installment of Reader vs. Reader (anyone have any wicked name suggestions???).  Two librarians who have read the same book will discuss it critically.  They may agree, agree on certain points, or completely disagree.  RvR will challenge your reading comfort zone and dig deeply into the text to find potential problems or subtle brilliance.  And maybe both.  

In November, Andrea and Pam both read Orbiting Jupiter, the acclaimed new YA novel from Gary Schmidt, author of The Wednesday Wars and other notable books.  

The Quick Reactions:

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Pam: My initial reaction was “Wow” à la Owen Wilson. But working through the themes in the novel, I found more and more that troubled me. Andrea: I really wanted to like this one. The prose is simplistic and beautiful, but ultimately there are too many unrealistic plot points for me.


Snippet of our conversation (Warning: spoilers everywhere!):

Pam: I liked the prose but I’m a bit unnerved by how teens might perceive how the pregnancy/fatherhood aspect was handled.

It’s like when you’re young, you think Romeo and Juliet is romantic, and then you grow up, and you realize it’s creepy because Juliet’s just a kid but they do it anyway and how could they even know what love is?

Andrea: I love the prose as well, but I was very “eh” on how it was all handled. Like they made it sound like he could get in trouble for getting her pregnant, but Maine has Romeo and Juliet laws.  

AND the whole story with HIS father. Like why did he know where his foster parents lived? Why did he have control over Jupiter?  As a grandparent, he could potentially fight for rights, but it wouldn’t be given off the bat. And with his abusive history there’s no way they would have given it either!

And why didn’t they offer like say an open adoption? So that he could see her, but she could be raised by people who could raise her. It just feels tragic. Why can’t he have a happy ending? Why did it have to be pushed to that point?

Pam: Yeah that was odd. There were all these adults standing around saying to HIS dad “you can’t be here” and he was all “neener neener neener.”

Andrea: Right! And how did he even GET their address? Like that’s not given out! Foster care is to protect the children! Visitation is handled at a neutral location.

Pam:  Hm. The more that I think about it, the more Hays Code it feels. You know, commit a sin, gotta die by the end of the movie so that justice is served.

Andrea: Yes!  Got a girl pregnant? Let me punish you all the way until you drown in the river.


Andrea: Did you get a sense of his race? I know he said dark hair/dark eyes…but is he white? hispanic? black?  

Pam: THAT was another thing! Nothing about skin color and I definitely think there was racial profiling going on.  Then that plays into the “bad/evil Latino/black boy seduces innocent young white girl’ trope and UGH.

Especially with the way the teachers treated him. Ugh.  As a white female reading that book, I admit that I assumed that he was a different race because of how he was described and the way people reacted to him. Is that also white privilege? There is this huge misconception that the black kid is the baby daddy and so forth, so by asking that question, are we playing into society’s stereotypes?  But then, if it was deliberately left unsaid, what will teens think? What conclusions will they draw?

Andrea: I mean, that’s totally an interesting thought. And I feel like race being left out is important, but there was a lot of “that kind of person” from the teachers. Was it simply because he was in jail/had a kid?  And the dark hair/dark eyes seems to imply it, but nothing is definite either. Does it play more class than race? Oh he’s poor plumbers soon, won’t amount to anything?  Because they all assumed he wasn’t smart and seemed so surprised when he was.  (Note: I talked to my teens and by description 90% of them jumped to black/hispanic)

Pam: Agree. However,  I liked the way Joseph talked about Jupiter. I got the sense he really cared and felt responsible for her; but he also couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that at 14, he COULDN’T care for her the way she needed to be.

Andrea: I loved how he wanted Jupiter and to love her, that rang so true, which is why I keep going back to the open adoption. It would have made such a different/better story.  Why couldn’t it have been about redemption?

Pam:  And that he would always know she was out there, and hoped she would know he was always there for her.  Redemption instead of condemnation?  I like that. Did you also think that the progression from young love to “whoops, having sex under a blanket” was a little … odd?

Andrea: Oh, god, yes.

Pam: Like: I like you. I kiss you. Let’s have sex under a blanket. You are now pregnant. You die because you are 13 and pregnant.

Andrea: I felt like it was a very unrealistic first time.  

Pam: I think that for emotional impact, it’s a very successful book. But when you stop to think about all of these little details, it almost makes me cringe.

Andrea: Agree! Which is why I think I moved more into a thumbs down. The prose it great. It’s a fast read and packs a punch, but maybe a little too problematic?

Pam: I think Orbiting Jupiter would be great for reluctant readers, and Joseph is, in his way, how a teen dad should act/feel about what happened, but there are so many other issues. The reader is blindsided by the emotional impact, but if you take the time later to think about what it’s really SAYING it’s rather disturbing.

Andrea:  Agree full heartedly

Stay tune next month when we’ll duke it out over Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown. 

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