Keepin’ It Real by John David Anderson
Rion Kwirk’s father makes jellybeans for a living.
His mother named her kids after constellations.
His older sister is a swordfighter. His younger sister is a walking dictionary.
And his grandfather…the man nearly defies explanation. And while his death isn’t all that mysterious, his funeral sure is.
Finding Orion, my forthcoming novel, is a little absurd. Missing corpses, candy company conspiracies, scavenger hunts, epic duels, barbershop quartets, and hungry pythons hint at a story that stretches the bounds of realistic fiction. The family is odd. Their quest is even odder, at times bordering on implausible. And yet the book is very real to me.
See, my family is also a little quirky. We have our hang-ups, our predilections, our eccentric tendencies. Like most families we squabble and fume, we guilt-trip and cajole. And we tease each other ruthlessly. But we also laugh and love, hug and forgive. We can be a little much at times. We are always more than enough.
The Kwirks, the family in the novel, are not synonymous with the Andersons; the personalities, the plot points, the character arcs have no direct correlation to my own kin (except for the Bag of Holding, which is something I lifted directly from my always-prepared wife). And yet, I know each of those characters intimately, because I’ve felt what they feel at one time or another.
I think any book’s truth, its realism, lies in the emotional reactions of its characters. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing about—could be dragons or dinosaurs, robots or rebels—as long as the underpinning emotions are true, as long as you feel for the plights of the characters and the characters feel for each other, I think the reader will be invested. The events depicted in Finding Orion are purely fictional, but the characters are as real to me as flesh and blood, precisely because I know how they feel, or, at the very least, I can appreciate the sentiment.
That empathy, that emotional connection, is a book’s greatest power, perhaps. My eleven-year old heart broke when Old Dan and Little Ann met their fate. My twenty-year-old heart ached when Snape gave Harry his last tear. My forty-year-old heart soared when Starr Carter found the courage to speak up. These are moments I will always remember. Moments that went straight to my gut. They felt real. They felt earned. Books can be training manuals for helping us to empathize with each other, strengthening emotional bonds the way exercise builds muscle mass. And the world, it seems to me, could use a little more emotional muscle mass.
In Finding Orion, Rion Kwirk needs to learn how to relate to the members of his family. He needs to learn to appreciate what makes them unique. He needs to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around him. He needs to discover all the ways he can be better.
I need to do all that too sometimes.
Books remind me.
John David Anderson is the author of some of the most beloved and highly acclaimed books for kids in recent memory, including the New York TimesNotable Book Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Posted, Granted, Sidekicked, and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wonderful wife and two frawsome kids in Indianapolis, Indiana. He’s never eaten seven scoops of ice cream in a single sitting, but he thinks it sounds like a terrific idea. You can visit him online at
FINDING ORION by John David Anderson
Sometimes you need to lose something in order to find yourself.
Beloved author John David Anderson returns with a heartwarming, heartbreaking and unforgettable story of the true power and limits of family.
Ron Kwirk comes from a rather odd family. His mother named him and his sisters after her favorite constellations, and his father makes funky-flavored jelly beans for a living. One sister acts as if she’s always onstage, 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 since 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 fell that that’s not the end of the story. That there’s so much more to Papa Kwirk to discover.
He doesn’t know how right he is.