And I found, once again, that she had the power to surprise me.
Cliff Blaine, 1969
My sister Scarlett is going to build me a rocket to Jupiter. When she reads Peter and Wendy it makes me think sometimes about flying to Jupiter and being in my rocket ship. Peter Pan didn't want to grow up, but I think I do because then I can go to space for real, which is something I can't do as a kid. Scarlett doesn't want to grow up. I think because she seems sad sometimes when she talks about grown-ups. But I think that she will make a great grown-up some day because she is the best sister already in the world.
Scarlet Blaine faces the biggest life challenges she's ever met in the summer of 1969. Her little brother is different from the other children his age, and no one knows why. He has an obsession with lining up tin cans according to size in perfect rows, and learning Spanish out of the dictionary Scarlett gave him. And when he makes a birthday list, he puts on things like "Eight moons in the sky instead of one" and "Fifteen Spanish battles".
Doctors didn't know how to diagnose Cliff in 1969, but today we know that he would have had autism.
Scarlett's father works in Farmer Leggett' peach farm--during the summer at least--and her mother waits on tables at a bed and breakfast. Thus, Scarlett spends the most time with Cliff, along with cooking for meals and trying not to listen to her parents' late night conversations. Grandpop Barley lives upstairs spreading peanut butter on everything he eats, and her hippie older sister Juli keeps the family on their toes with dying her hair blue and talking of divine inner peace.
But Cliff's real dream goes beyond Spanish matadors and lining up cans. After watching America launch the first rocket to the moon, the ten-year-old boy determines that he will be the first astronaut to reach Jupiter. His sister Scarlett determines to make his dream come true--as far as launching a rocket, that is.
So they spend the summer chasing Jupiter.
Farmer Leggett's nice son agrees to give them all the peaches they need for their peach pie stand. After he gets to know Scarlett and Cliff, he agrees to help them build their stand if Scarlett will put in a good word for him with her older sister Juli. Scarlett tells him that Juli prefers her boyfriend Ziggy, and Frank good-naturedly agrees to help them regardless. He'll take pie for his payment instead.
Throughout that glorious summer, Cliff, Frank, and Scarlett bake pies, rescue animals, and watch men land on the moon. Then Juli runs away, and Scarlett's parents decide to send Grandpop Barley to a care facility. Their late night conversations are sounding more and more desperate, and they keep attending political meetings.
The golden glory of summer ends in the blink of an eye--just a few days after Cliff decides to sacrifice his dream, and only moments before they put Grandpop Barley in the car to take him away. And through the tragedy, Scarlett Blaine must come to grips with the fact that she can't hold her family together any more.
My sincere congratulations to Rachel on plotting of this story. The darkest moment which I've just described was far from the cliché one I rather expected. She knew how far to take the sorrow without taking it too far, and I am beyond pleased with the effect her restraint managed to produce. Well done indeed.
Chasing Jupiter appealed very strongly to the five senses. Hot Georgia breezes, baking pies, and the smell of peaches and gravel while they sit with their pie stand combine to produce a very pleasurable sensory experience.
No kissing and no dates, for those who like to avoid that sort of thing. The romance was a little on the strong side--I get the idea that Frank's hair blowing across his forehead is really mesmerizing, but it's not the most edifying thing to be thinking about. However, I will say that Frank and Scarlett's friendship was founded through mutual help, loving in actions and in truth. The amount of time Coker spent focusing in the feelings could drop just a little bit, and I would be even happier, but their love did not focus on selfish emotional fulfillment, and that's a good thing.
Chasing Jupiter focuses on Scarlett's need for Christ. The conflict is a gospel-centered one. Along with that Coker weaves in themes of family dysfunction and growing into adulthood that are very relatable. I think her character arc with her family drew me to the book more than the side of romance. Scarlett's story is a real one, and I found many things that I could identify with. In fact, I was crying a lot during the Sunday afternoon I curled up to finish it, and when I actually cry over a book, I know that it's worth finishing.
Rachel Coker's books are not historical fiction. They are inspirational literature. You won't know much more about Georgia, though you may learn a fact or two about 1969. But I do hope that those of you who are able to get a copy read Cliff and Scarlett's story. Rachel Coker represents a cause and a dream worth supporting. Because she is a young woman rising above the expectations of her times, and I applaud her for that.
You can find her on her blog here.
P.S. North and South is now available on the movie reviews page!