Orbiting Jupiter is a realistic fiction novel narrated by 12-year-old Jack about his family taking in a 14-year-old foster kid named Joseph, who just came from the Stone Mountain juvenile detention center. Everyone in the small town thinks Joseph is a hoodlum and they treat him very poorly, even the principal. Only Jack, his family, and a couple teachers (including Doug Swiatek’s brother who came back from Vietnam!) have his back.

When people treat Joseph poorly or make him nervous, he backs up against the wall with his hands up and starts breathing really hard (PTSD from prison). And the only reason he was in prison in the first place is because he kept sneaking out of each foster home to try and find his baby daughter, Jupiter, whom he has never met. Joseph is actually a gifted student in math and a kind person in general. When things get too much for him, he goes into the barn and pats Rosie the cow on the rump and she moos because she loves him. How adorable and meaningful is that? Rosie the cow, the nativity story, Joseph’s traumatic reactions, and the dialogue reveal the truth in all the characters.

Jack slowly unravels Joseph’s story as a shocking ending nears. Both Jack and Joseph (and many of the secondary characters) are authentic and complex. I love them and I want to belong to that family. This is a very emotionally intense and haunting story with a spare writing style that lends itself to the serious tone. And there are shared characters and writing style with The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now.

Readalikes: The Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now, A List of Cages by Robin Roe, The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin, The First Part Last by Angela Johnson, Hanging on to Max by Margaret Bechard.