It was almost dawn when we went outside, Joseph and me. The peaks to the west were lit up and spilling some of the light down their sides onto our fields, all harvested and turned and ready for the long winter. You could smell the cold air and the wood smoke…Everywhere in the gray yard, color was filling in – the red barns, the green shutters, the green trim on the house and the yellow trim on the chicken shed, the orange tabby clawing into the fence rail. (pp. 9-10)
As the above passage demonstrates, Schmidt’s tale takes place in the country. Place – e.g., the nearby river, pond, farm, and road to school – plays an integral role in Jack and Joseph’s story. More than just the setting, the places of the novel drive the action and characterization of the novel. Living on the farm seems to promise new growth for Joseph as he works to understand his past and hope for his future.
Readers are asked to grapple with the idea of the country as restorative as they follow Joseph on a journey of redemption. Jack’s matter-of-fact approach to telling Joseph’s story reminded me of family story-telling sessions around the campfire and made my country heart feel at home in his world. This story of growth and loss is a powerful examination of all that makes us human and how place plays a role in shaping that humanity.
Orbiting Jupiter is a story both tender and brutal. It is beautiful even as it portrays some of the ugliest parts of humanity. I loved it, and I think students would too, but even more than that, it can foster deep and important discussions about the opportunities afforded to folks at varying intersections of identity and how places play a role in shaping them.