Review: Seventeen-year-old Scarlett Blaine is far from the average young woman. She has undertaken the responsibility of running her household and it’s starting to get to her. Her brother Cliff has never been “normal,” Grandpop Barley is a compulsive peanut butter eater whose mind isn’t what it used to be and her sister Juli has become a free spirit who no longer confides in Scarlett. What’s a girl to do? Cliff’s answer is that Scarlett dreads the idea of growing up. Things are complicated further when Scarlett falls for the guy who is crushing on Juli, her parent’s encounter financial difficulties and Cliff insists on building a rocket to Jupiter… life couldn’t be any crazier, right? It’s not until her whole world is threatened that Scarlett begins to realize she needs more than earthly help.
It puzzles me to no end why I’d never heard of teen novelist Rachel Coker until now. Introduced to her by my wonderful friend, Rosie, I was taken aback at the glowing reviews, forgot about it, and was then offered a copy through DJC Communications – to whom I extend many thanks! Already Rachel has an impressive résumé and if only one word were to describe (as impossible as this is) Rachel’s sophomore novel, it’d be unique. Missing from the story is any hint of a feel-good vibe because its impact is meant to go deeper – to emotionally touch its reader – than the average teen novel. Unlike the majority of YA fiction, there is no love triangle or flying creatures, just straight-forward, “solid” writing centering what could have otherwise been a story thought too quirky for the happy-ending sort of reader.
Every single one of these characters is quirky albeit memorable in their own way. Cliff is a compulsive kid in nearly everything he does and is hard to “understand” as a result. Favorite parts within these pages include the relationship between the fun (and underused!) character of Mrs. Greene and Scarlett. Shades of the best-selling novel, The Help vividly comes to mind during these portions of the book, bringing thoughts of Minny and Celia’s endearing story into play. There’s a hilarious scene involving a chicken and some great conversations between them. It’s in these moments that Coker’s writing voice is best. Written in the first person, this is unarguably the most mature, well thought-out novel I’ve ever read in this prose. There’s wit and tears in equal measure but the voice of Scarlett is never lost in all that drama. Her struggle is real and relatable to any young person if they’ve ever “gone along” (for the sake of their parents) with the spiritual traditions they’ve been brought up with. Likewise, Scarlett’s transformation of realizing she is not as indestructible as she thinks is heartfelt. The only flaw I found a bit rushed was the “epilogue.” It reads a bit too hurried for my tastes, even though I am a big fan of that “last word,” I prefer it being more fleshed out.
Not only is what is on the inside worth discovering, this cover jacket is stunning! The book is beautifully designed, it’s a hardback and the concept is perfection complementing the story in every sense. Written with maturity and appearing on the Christian fiction scene with a fresh voice, Rachel has the makings of a long career with endorsements that are wonderfully favorable. She’s got a knack for story-telling, and if Chasing Jupiter is any indication, she isn’t going to be disappearing from the book shelves of stores anytime soon. It’s moving and remarkably poignant. Bravo, Rachel.
Synopsis: Scarlett Blaine’s life in 1960s Georgia isn’t always easy, especially given her parents’ financial struggles and the fights surrounding her sister Juli’s hippie lifestyle. Then there’s her brother, Cliff. While Scarlett loves him more than anything, there’s no denying his unique behavior leaves Cliff misunderstood and left out. So when he wishes for a rocket to Jupiter, Scarlett agrees to make it happen, no matter how crazy the idea might be. Raising the rocket money means baking pies, and the farmer’s son, Frank, agrees to provide the peaches if Scarlett will help him talk to Juli. The problem is, Scarlett really enjoys her time with Frank, and finds herself wondering if, someday, they could be more than friends. Just as she thinks everything might be going her way, Cliff suffers an accident that not only affects the rocket plans, but shakes Scarlett’s view of God. As the summer comes to an end, Scarlett must find a way to regain what she’s lost, but also fulfill a promise to launch her brother’s dream.