Thursday, July 23, 2015

Out of This World: a Review of ORBITING JUPITER by Gary D. Schmidt

Schmidt, Gary D. ORBITING JUPITER. New York: Clarion Books. Advanced Review Copy provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers.

A farm family in rural Maine fosters Joseph, a 14-year-old whose life is a series of unfortunate events. It's a rough start for Joseph and his new family, too, but he soon opens up to them after a bonding moment with foster brother, Jack. Joseph explains the truth behind the stories and shares his determination to reunite with his daughter, Jupiter. Just when life begins to look up, bad things go down.

Schmidt smartly establishes setting and character through a first-person narrator. Use of classical allusion, in this case, the Nativity, gives the novel its literary chops. Then there are the humorous potshots at English teachers, the nods to great literature, the ins and outs of middle school life one expects from Schmidt. But, somehow, in ORBITING JUPITER, Schmidt has managed to accomplish with fewer words what he fails to do in many of his other books--here, he makes every scene plausible. There are no zany subplots or misdirected steps. The most appealing of his novels, ORBITING JUPITER will stand out as classic Schmidt--crisp, clear, compelling.

Schmidt, Gary D. ORBITING JUPITER. New York: Clarion Books. Advanced Review Copy provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers.

Publication Date: November 3, 2015. 
ISBN: 9780544462229
Ages: 12 and up
Grades: 7 and up

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


Walrath, Dana. Like Water on Stone. New York: Delacorte, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-385-74397-6 

Shahen Donabedian wants more than anything to escape his sleepy little Anatolian village to go to New York City, just like his uncle before him. His twin sister, Sosi, does not feel the same, having just discovered the earliest stirrings of affection for Vahan Arkalian, the clock-maker's son. Together, Shahen and Sosi, are expected to help their parents with the family mill-work, grape harvests and care of their five-year-old sister, Miriam. When the unthinkable happens, and the children are forced to flee while their parents are brutally murdered, nothing matters but survival.

A very sensitive book detailing the horrors of the Armenian genocide for a brother and two sisters in 1914, as they escape to Aleppo with the help of an eagle. Walrath doesn't spare us the details-senseless murder, rape, rivers running with blood, death by starvation-but her choice of free verse somehow gives the reader a chance to come up for air once in a while. In addition, she pays attention to the little details of her Armenian heritage-the music, the food, the daily duties of mothers and daughters. She also explores daily interactions among Turkish Muslims, Kurds and Armenians in rural villages before nationalism crept across the Ottoman empire. Great understanding and depth of insight into the human condition is portrayed in this deceptively simple book.

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