Planet Jupiter by Jane Kurtz – Review by Jennifer Jacobson
I have been eagerly awaiting Planet Jupiter, the newest middle-grade novel by Jane Kurtz. Kurtz’s novels contain the number one thing I search for in stories: HEART. Planet Jupiter is no exception. It is a deeply layered and incredibly moving. For this reason alone, I want to thrust it into the arms of young readers, teachers, and librarians. But it also contains an oft forgotten truth.
Jupiter is a girl with agency. When Paddy Wagon, the van that keeps her freewheeling family on the road breaks down, Jupiter saves money to repair it. When her older brother feels the need to stay put and earn a regular paycheck, she plans to bring him (and her rolling-stone father) back into her orbit. When Topher (her mother’s heretofore supportive friend) moves on, Jupiter scatters the blessed thistle to keep him away for good. But it’s when her seven-year-old cousin, Edom, arrives on the scene (a recently adopted Ethiopian girl requiring stability while her mother undergoes cancer treatment), and the threesome has to be parked for a time in drizzly Portland, that Jupiter launches her biggest plan of all: to get Edom back to California and her nuclear family back to busking.
In all activities — gardening, hustling, skateboarding, even eating a grasshopper — Jupiter is a delightful take-charge girl, a model of persistence. And although she’s surrounded by a cast of likeable characters, she goes it alone. As she says, Dad and I were the type to sing I-don’t-need-nobody songs.
Yet, time spent with Edom changes her: The planet Jupiter is so strong that stars and moons around it wobble. But now I had a little moon in my gravitational field and it was making me wobble. Growing increasingly closer, the two girls plot together to get Edom where they both want her: back with Amy-Mom. As they scheme, Jupiter shares the wisdom she’s gleaned while living on the road. Unfortunately, when an incident angers Edom, and she sets out to travel alone with the much-heeded advice – advice such as If you see someone in uniform, hide — Jupiter realizes that she has, inadvertently, placed her young cousin in a great deal of danger. She has to do something. Something hard. She has to ask for help.
Ah, here is the oft forgotten truth.
Persistence contributes to success. True. So does the making and honoring of mistakes. But there’s something else that many of us need to embrace and that’s the sure knowledge that we can turn to others when we need to. We can ask for help. That asking for help, as Jupiter would say, is a superpower.
This story dazzled me with its originality, its voice, its witty dialogue. But as expected, it was the heart that sent me rocketing. For as Jupiter allows herself to become vulnerable, as she begins to acknowledge her feelings of abandonment and communicates her desire to have more connectivity in her sphere, we too feel our world spin, our universe grow bigger.
Jennifer Richard Jacobson is the author of many books for children and young adults including Small as an Elephant, and Paper Things, which not only received a Charlotte Huck Honor and a ILA Social Justice Literature Award, but a Nerdy Award 2015! When she’s not in her Maine home writing or coaching children’s writers, Jennifer is on the road providing professional development on Writer’s Workshop. Her book No More “I’m Done!” Fostering Independent Writers in the Primary Grades supports her philosophy that all learners can experience joy in writing. She can be found at http://www.jenniferjacobson.com