by David Arnold
Reviewed by SA
When I saw a new book out by David Arnold, I pounced on it. Mosquitoland was an amazing novel and I knew his new book would not disappoint. No, Kids of Appetite was just as fantastic, maybe even more so. It’s a fantastic example of young adult fiction at its very best. This review is going to be rather long: I have so much to say about it. You’ve been warned!
Victor Benucci and Madeline Falco have a story to tell.
It begins with the death of Vic’s father.
It ends with the murder of Mad’s uncle.
The Hackensack Police Department would very much like to hear it.
But in order to tell their story, Vic and Mad must focus on all the chapters in between.
This is a story about:
1. A coded mission to scatter ashes across New Jersey.
2. The momentous nature of the Palisades in winter.
3. One dormant submarine.
4. Two songs about flowers.
5. Being cool in the traditional sense.
6. Sunsets & ice cream & orchards & graveyards.
7. Simultaneous extreme opposites.
8. A narrow escape from a war-torn country.
9. A story collector.
10. How to listen to someone who does not talk.
11. Falling in love with a painting.
12. Falling in love with a song.
13. Falling in love.
Vic is was born with Moebius syndrome, an his face is paralyzed. But that’s not who he is, it’s just the first thing people see about him. Since he never gives off facial cues when he speaks, it gives off the impression he might not be listening. But he is: he might also be the smartest kid you will ever meet.
It’s been two years since his father passed away, and he’s not ready to let go yet. When his mother gets proposed to, he flees into the night with his father’s ashes. In his urn he finds a beautiful letter from his father to his mother, and discovers a secret message telling him what to do with the ashes. Aided by Mad, a young woman he falls hopelessly in love with, and her friends Coco, Baz and Nzutzi, who all live in a greenhouse together, they decide to fulfill his father’s dying wishes.
So why are they in a police station being interviewed about a murder?
There is just so much to love about this book. It’s just not *about* one thing, it’s a novel that covers just so much, with a scope so wide it captures the complexity of life itself. It’s a murder mystery. It’s a scavenger hunt. It’s a love story. Make that two love stories. It’s a book about abuse and violence. A book about following dreams and letting go of the past. It is, for all intents and purposes, the perfect storm of a novel.
When I first started reading it, I groaned internally. Sigh. Vic is one of those kids who’s ‘got a rare genetic condition but he’s so smart and loves really niche things! woopee!’ – so I assumed it would be like all the other YAs that fall into formula land and bore me to tears… and then, then, I started to love him. I started to relate to him. I saw he was not just a character or a plot point, but a person. I started to care. And then I cared about everyone. My gosh, how can these character have so much backstory and heart in such a small space?
Yes, there is a love story here: but the one that stood out to me was not Vic and Mad, but Vic’s parents. Oh my gosh, when we say #relationship goals, it’s them we’re thinking about. They really loved each other, and it brought me to tears knowing she losses him. Seeing Vic follow the clues his father left behind, going to places that meant something to his parents, and the love they had for each other, now that love was so amazing and pure that it made me want to know them.
Mad’s favorite book is the outsiders – a novel I loved in middle school, though not as much as she does – and it draws a lot of parallels with the story, both outspoken and unsaid. For example, the reminder that we all see the same sunset rang true, and was especially poignant when Baz recounted his escape from the Congo. However, it did remind me when I studied the book, and the message about “staying golden,” making me feel bad for the Kids of Appetite, especially Coco. Their childhood was taken away. Maybe living in a fairytale like greenhouse was a way to recapture it*.
The only fault I can find is that the message might be shoved down our throats. The author frequently repeats things (there’s a great quote I loved a lot the first time, might not as much the next two) and especially his message. He’s not very subtle. Actually when I found subtle things, a few lines or pages later he’d actually say them out loud. At times, it made me feel like the author was sitting next to me saying “you got that, right?”
I’m certain this will be required reading in high schools from now on. If a teacher were to tell me to write an essay about it, I could probably come up with seven different directions to go with it. I could talk about the Super Racehorse. I could talk about Love. I could talk about youth, innocence, and family, and so many more. Honestly, I cannot shut up about this book.
Thank you Penguin First to Read for the opportunity to get an advance copy of this novel. it comes out September 20th and you all know you need to read it, STAT.
*Now I want to study the symbology of the color green in this book. Dang.