The acclaimed author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and Posted returns with an unforgettable tale of love and laughter, of fathers and sons, of what family truly means, and of the ways in which we sometimes need to lose something in order to find ourselves.
Rion Kwirk comes from a rather odd family. His mother named him and his sisters after her favorite constellations, and his father makes funky-flavored jellybeans for a living. One sister acts as if she’s always on stage, and the other is a walking dictionary. But no one in the family is more odd than Rion’s grandfather, Papa Kwirk.
He’s the kind of guy who shows up on his motorcycle only on holidays handing out crossbows and stuffed squirrels as presents. Rion has always been fascinated by Papa Kwirk, especially as his son—Rion’s father—is the complete opposite. Where Dad is predictable, nerdy, and reassuringly boring, Papa Kwirk is mysterious, dangerous, and cool.
Which is why, when Rion and his family learn of Papa Kwirk’s death and pile into the car to attend his funeral and pay their respects, Rion can’t help but feel that that’s not the end of his story. That there’s so much more to Papa Kwirk to discover.
He doesn’t know how right he is.--from the publisher
368 pages 978-0062643896 Ages 8-12
Keywords: wacky family, funeral, scavenger hunt, grandfather, clues, death, adventure, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old
Part Willy Wonka and part Wonder Years--- Kirkus Reviews
Rion Kwirk's family members live up to their name. The father is a flavor chemist who works at a candy factory, younger sister Lyra is obsessed with the dictionary, and older sister Cass loves performing. The family is sitting down to dinner when the doorbell rings, and it is a singing telegram. The clown who delivers it informs them that their grandfather Papa Kwirk (aka Jimmy), has passed away.
They are all in shock over the inappropriateness, and the father is on the phone to his aunt Gertie, who corroborates the clown's message. Soon, the family is off to Greenburg (with Cass' pet boa constrictor for comfort) to attend the FUNNeral that Gertie claims includes all of Jimmy's last wishes. There is a barbershop quartet, high school marching band, and a meal served by food trucks. There is also a touching eulogy by a girl Rion's age, Tasha, who spent a lot of time with Jimmy. It's not the standard send off, but townspeople share happy memories of Jimmy with the family, and they are a bit comforted.
When Gertie shares that there is a scavenger style hunt to find Jimmy's ashes, however, they are not. The father is done with the nonsense and ready to go home, until the first clue starts to make sense. He takes the children out to the house where he grew up, digs in the yard, and finds the next clue. Despite their misgivings, the family is in, and continue pursuing the clues. This brings up many issues from the past and highlights the often dysfunctional relationship the father and Jimmy had after Shelley, their mother and wife, passed away. Each clue sheds a bit more light on what Jimmy experienced and how it impacted his son, and the family is able to work together to understand that even though things can be tough, family means sticking together.
Strengths: I enjoyed the small town setting and the fact that the immediate family was working together. The grief is not overly sodden (they didn't see Jimmy very often, which brings up a whole different kind of grief), and the death of a grandparent is something that many middle grade readers experience. Rion's light romance is fun as well. The book is generally amusing, even with the death, and Anderson always does a very touching story.
Weaknesses: This would have been far more effective without so many quirks for the Kwirks. Every time the name was mentioned, I flinched a little. Had Jimmy and Gertie been the only odd ones, it would have underscored the difficulties the father and son had, and made this seem more realistic. The sub plot with the criminals following the family was unnecessary.
What I really think: Hard NOT to like a book by Anderson, and perhaps young readers will not balk at the goofy names, aunt's vacuum cleaner collection, and general weirdness, but it made the book less effective for me.
Recommended by: Karen Yingling, Library Media Specialist, Ohio USA
See more of her recommendations: Msyinglingreads.blogspot.com