The casket at a strangely festive funeral proves to contain not the deceased but a clue that leads the bereaved family on an epic scavenger hunt.
Rion Kwirk, 12, regards his grandfather with wary fascination. Papa Kwirk, a hard-living biker and Vietnam War vet, and Rion’s dad, a Ph.D. candy-factory chemist, were semi-estranged. Rion’s planetarium-director mom maintained peace on Papa Kwirk’s short, friction-filled visits. When news of Papa Kwirk’s death arrives via singing clown, the family drives to Greenburg, Illinois, where his sister, Gertie has organized a “funneral.” Rion’s older sister, Cass, 16, brings her pet python, Delilah (Papa Kwirk was a fan); his younger sister, Lyra, 10, brings a hefty vocabulary. Edgy with Gertie and uncomfortable in his hometown, which carries bad memories, Dad’s unsettled by the funneral. Still, curious about the crowd showing up to laud Papa Kwirk, Dad agrees to the hunt. Reflective Rion’s an outlier among the aptronymic Kwirks. A convincing preteen when interacting with his sisters and peers, he sounds decades older—wry and nostalgic by turns—when pondering life. There’s a time-warp feel to Rion’s insular, mostly white world (Tasha, Rion’s possible crush, is dark, race unspecified). Recurring jokes include other cultures’ burial practices and Rion’s fantasy of being orphaned and adopted. The Kwirks’ dead-of-night adventure digging up a stranger’s backyard prompts gun jokes but not fear.
A smoothly written family adventure that evokes both Willy Wonka and The Wonder Years. (Fiction. 8-12)