(D) Ages 10-12, (E) Ages 12-15, Boys, Middle Grades, Realistic Fiction
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Finding Orion by John David Anderson

Beneath its crazy premise, Finding Orion is a touching look at family reconciliation.

Finding Orion by John David Anderson.  HarperCollins (Walden Pond), 2019, 352 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 12-15

“Everybody’s family is a little nutso.  But there’s nuts . . . and then there’s the Kwirks.”  Rion (Orion Kwirk considers himself the normal one in the family, sandwiched between a stage-struck, show-tune-humming teen sister and a science-whiz tween sister.  For parents he has a germophobe mom and a dad who’s a certified chemistry genius.  Dad’s main job is devising new jelly-bean flavors for a candy company—flavors like “armpit” and “fried chicken.”  But that’s nothing to Papa Kwirk, Rion’s paternal grandpa, who shows up on his Harley every Christmas Eve with presents like a junior crossbow and a tactical combat knife.  The fun begins when Papa Kwirk interrupts a family meal to announce his death by way of a singing telegram brought by Chuckles the Clown.  No joke.

So it’s back to Greenburg, the small town Dad left years ago and never wanted to return to.  Dad was always reserved toward his father, if not downright hostile at times, but friends and neighbors in Greenburg remember a Kwirk very different from the one his family remembers.  And the whole family is shaken when, by written directive, Papa Kwirk suggests they get to know him better by means of an elaborate treasure hunt that will take them into corners of the past they never suspected.

Parent are a mystery.  After growing up in the same house, kids may think they know the ‘rents inside out, and they’re quick to judge once they come to the early teen age.  The period of adjustment between a child’s view and an adult’s view is often rocky—Rion is going through it and his Dad never quite left it.  And parents, being human, sometimes fail at their mission:

They catch you or they don’t.  Sometimes it’s on purpose, I guess because they know it’s only going to be a scratch . . . But sometimes they don’t catch you because they can’t, because they don’t get there in time, or they had no idea you were about to crash.

The zany humor blended with serious reflection feels a little forced at times. If your own family has suffered a recent loss, this may not be the novel for you. But overall, Finding Orion is a perceptive look at reconciliation and coming to terms.

Considerations:

  • Language (“my god,” 3 or 4 times along with 2 “hell” and 1 “damn” quoted from Papa K)
  • Otherwise, family-positive and humorous

Overall Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic value: 4

Also by John David Anderson: Posted

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