Hypable spoke with Gary D. Schmidt about his new book Orbiting Jupiter, and we exclusively reveal the cover right here!
Drawing on the author’s conversations with incarcerated kids, this groundbreaking coming of age redemption story is a YA classic in the making by the two-time Newbery Honor winner, National Book Award finalist. Set in rural Maine during the bitter winter, Jack (aged 12) and his family adopt 14 year old, Joseph. Joseph is misunderstood. He was incarcerated for trying to kill a teacher. Or so the rumors say. But Jack and his family see something others in town don’t want to. A smart, hardworking, and driven young man. After all, you can tell a lot about a person by how a cow treats them. When they find out that Joseph has a daughter he’s never seen, everything begins to make sense. In this riveting novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family and the sacrifices it requires, bringing more compelling insight into a world most of us don’t want to believe exists.
Tell us a little about the meaning behind this cover.
Of course, covers are chosen by the publisher, not the author — so I don’t want to assume that I have the full answer on the meaning of the cover. But I do think it is truly one of the best covers ever given to me. I like the tone of it: the stark black and white world that seems so harsh, but is enlivened by the playfulness of Joseph’s tilted hands. And I like the way the cover doesn’t allow for easy analysis: is Joseph on a level road, or on an embankment, or what? It’s perfect to suggest a world in which there are no easy answers. Even the fact that he is walking away from us, obviously thinking about his own world, and not the viewer, is just right. He has a lot to think about.
What sort of conversations did you have with incarcerated kids that inspired this story?
I’ve been to several prisons to talk about writing, one maximum security prison to talk with adult male prisoners, one medium security prison to talk with young juvenile prisoners. The common denominator is a desire to talk, to have someone listen, to tell a story about life — usually a difficult story about a difficult life. One of the kiddos from a maximum security prison for boys became the inspiration for Joseph. He seemed so hardnosed, so defensive — and yet he wanted me to know that he was a writer too. He wanted me to understand that he had a story. That seems a lot like Joseph to me.
What message are you hoping to convey with a story like this?
As far as messages in novels, I subscribe impenitently to the Mark Twain school of thought: the reader shouldn’t go looking for messages. There are genres in which messages are important; the novel, it seems to me, is not one of those genres. If you mean, Do you want to talk about true things? then I would say, I want to talk about a broken world that desperately needs healing, and I want to talk about losing the one you care most about in life, and I want to talk about the boundless possibilities of love.
Why do you think it’s important to tell stories from a world “most of us don’t want to believe exists,” like this one?
If story is about giving us the opportunity to enter into the life of another, then story is one of the most powerful ways to understand someone else. If we tell stories only about people like ourselves, we’re talking only to the choir. And often it’s good to talk to the choir, and pleasant. But if that’s your only source of news about the world, then you’ve limited yourself too quickly. I grew up with the old Coke commercial — you know the one — and I have never doubted its essential truth about the unity of the human experience, and the role that story can play in conveying it.