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Finding Orion

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Finding Orion Book Poster Image
Heart, humor, discoveries fill oddball family quest tale.

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Kids say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

All kinds of arcane knowledge from history to astronomy to chemistry to Shakespeare is likely to come from the mouth of any one of the Kwirk family at any given moment, which may or may not be a socially appropriate moment. Lots of book, movie, TV, and pop culture references from the '60s to the present. Grandpa was a Vietnam vet, and his experiences in that war are important to the story.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about family, friendship, helping people out when they need it, and forming new bonds as a result.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All the members of the Kwirk family, including relatively "normal" Orion, are pretty odd, and often drive one another nuts, but the bond is strong. By the time this story is over, they've committed a couple of burglaries and met an impossible ice-cream-eating challenge, among other hair-raising and ill-advised adventures, but it's all part of getting a better understanding of your family members and the issues they face. Also the lives they've touched.

Violence

A pet ferret meets an untimely end. One scene involves Orion's sister saving the day with swordplay against industrial-espionage creeps who have kidnapped the family at knifepoint, thanks to all the fencing classes she's been taking for theater (and using Orion for practice). Grandpa was fond of gory war stories (e.g. a land mine "blows your leg clean off") and often gives Orion lethal weapons for Christmas. (Orion's mother puts them away for safekeeping. Rion gripes: "She'd be sorry when the Reaping started and I didn't step up and volunteer as tribute in Lyra's place.")

Sex

Budding attraction between Orion and a tween girl. ("I don't know a whole lot about parenting, being twelve years old and never even having kissed a girl..." says Orion.) A character who lived in the '60s is described as a "hottie." An elderly aunt is reputed to have had more boyfriends than "a queen bee in a hive full of drones." Orion describes an ice-cream-eating contest as "the most revolting thing I'd seen since catching my sister French-kissing Damien Moorehead last summer in the basement."

Language

"Crap," "piss," and bathroom, fart, butt, barf, gross-out humor aplenty. One of Grandpa's wartime-related insults is to say someone couldn't  "pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel." Asked if he believes in God, Grandpa says, "Hell yes. I believe in all of 'em. I wouldn't've come back from 'Nam otherwise." 

Consumerism

Many mentions of real-life brand names as scene setting, e.g. "When you're five, there's nothing that can't be cured with a Band-Aid and an Oreo." A family member has a long-running Star Trek nickname.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Aunt Gertie smokes cigars. In the past, characters' struggles with alcoholism affect their families -- and also cause them to help out others in the same situation when they're in a better place themselves, sometimes becoming their Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors. Orion describes a Renaissance Faire this way: "Imagine a bunch of people in knee-high boots and frilly shirts slogging through the mud, drinking beer out of ivory horns, and saying 'forsooth' a lot." 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Finding Orion, by beloved middle-grade author John David Anderson, is the tale of an odd quest, the odd family who find themselves on it, and a whole lot of love, misunderstanding, and righting of past wrongs. In the past and in the present, kid and adult characters deal with heavy stuff, including death, war, alcoholism, industrial espionage, family estrangement. There's a lot of humor, a lot of heart, and many inadvisable adventures (from burglarizing backyards to warding off thugs with a sword). And there's the occasional "piss," "crap," and assorted bathroom and gross-out humor. It's a voyage of discovery to understand their recently departed and definitely out-there grandfather, and along the way parents and kids learn a lot about themselves and each other while accumulating tales to last a lifetime.

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What's the story?

As FINDING ORION begins, 12-year-old Orion Kwirk and his family are just sitting down to taste-test his chemist dad's latest jelly bean flavor (fried chicken, which is a lot better than previous creations garlic and armpit) when the doorbell rings. At the door is a clown, who bursts into a silly-sounding song with a clear message -- Papa Kwirk, the estranged father of Orion's dad, has died. Even for the Kwirks, who are not known for being exactly normal, this is strange. But as they head back to Fletcher Kwirk's hometown for the funeral, they don't know how strange things are going to get. Burglary, gluttony, swordplay, and revelations ensue.

Is it any good?

This unusual family quest story is lots of fun and loaded with heart. This family is Kwirk by name, quirky by nature: Dad a genius chemist, Mom's an astronomer, the kids are all named after constellations, and these are their adventures. Which are unlikely, hilarious, poignant, occasionally on the wrong side of the law, but all on the convoluted path to understanding (and appreciating) who we and our loved ones really are.  Finding Orion's 12-year-old narrator is a highly relatable middle kid trying to cope with being in a family of oddball prodigies when he just wants to be normal.

"It's hard, sometimes, reconciling the difference between what you really feel about something and what you know you're supposed to feel.

"Like when you're sitting in the high school auditorium watching your sister on stage dressed like a freaky cat/human hybrid, singing and slinking around and licking her furry arms. And you know you should be proud of her, because she's your sister and it's one of the lead roles. And you are, sort of, but you're also really tired of sitting there watching this incredibly stupid musical where nothing makes any sense, and you wish the freaking Jellicle cats would just hurry up and get to the Jellicle Ball or maybe be runover by a Jellicle truck so you can go home and zone out with your Playstation."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about quest stories. Finding Orion may seem like an unusual example, but does it have anything in common with more traditional stories involving, say, magical objects or damsels in distress? How does the quest affect the different characters? Do their discoveries change them?

  • What do you know about the Vietnam War? Do you know anyone who was there? Have they ever told you about their lives during that time?

  • Have you ever seen Cats? How did you like it?

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For kids who love weird facts and adventurous quests

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