Kids of Appetite by David Arnold. Viking Books, 2016.
Guys, guys, it’s my first ARC review! How cool is that?? I got this ARC from winning the Barnes & Noble B-Fest trivia contest. This is the second novel by David Arnold, the first being Mosquitoland, which I read and reviewed a few months ago. Kids of Appetite will be released on September 20.
I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did Mosquitoland, though the two are not connected in any way. This book features two different narrators: Vic, a boy who has Moebius syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes facial paralysis; and Mad, an orphan who now lives with her senile grandmother and abusive uncle. These two meet when Vic runs away from home and joins the rag-tag group Mad hangs with, which includes two brothers who are Congolese refugees and a spunky eleven-year-old redhead who has been taken in by the eldest brother, Baz. What makes Vic run away is a marriage proposal he witnesses in his dining room: Vic’s father died of cancer a year earlier, and he is not ok with his mom getting engaged to a guy with less-than-awesome habits and children who bully Vic. So Vic grabs his father’s ashes and leaves. When he opens the urn on his favorite dock to spread his father’s ashes in the river, Vic discovers a note his father wrote to Vic’s mom: a note that asks her to scatter his ashes in various significant places. And so Vic’s quest begins, with the help of his new friends.
Fans of John Green will love David Arnold. His characters are witty beyond their years, to some criticism. There were moments I felt this trendy, forced teenage quirkiness was getting old, but generally it did not bother me too badly. What bothered me instead was that the story would have been better told by only one point of view. The reason Mosquitoland was such a strong book was because the narrative voice of the main character was strong. It carried the story. This book had a similar strong voice in Vic, but there was almost too much going on. By the end, I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a story of forgiveness between mother and son, acceptance of people different than you, how to deal with grief, falling in love for the first time, or coming-of-age. That’s not to say a single book can’t handle all of those issues well, but this book felt too scattered to me, and it would have been stronger, I think, if it cut down on some of the things it was trying to accomplish. I think the simplest and most effective solution would be to just have Vic as the narrator; I was never really drawn to Mad’s narration like I was to Vic’s, and his sections drove the story more than Mad’s.
The story is also a frame narrative. At the beginning of each chapter, Vic and Mad are being questioned by the police about some yet-to-be-revealed crime that was committed by one of their group members. Then the chapters shift and flash back to the main story, where you start to learn more about the characters and their life situations, as well as why they end up in the police station eventually. I like the way this plot was structured; it was very effective to use the police interrogations as teasers for further plot points, because you start to guess at what might happen, and there is of course, a twist. (No spoilers).
I think that teenagers would generally like this book. This is actually one of the first cases in which I felt as if my age did a disservice to the reading. I realized this early on when I immediately started worrying about Vic’s mother despite the fact that Vic rarely even thinks of her after running away. She’s rarely mentioned, but the whole time I was like, “Kid, what are you doing, your mother is going probably going crazy right now!” I was so worried about his mom, as he was so not worried about his mom. I honestly don’t think the thought would have occurred to me if I had read this book as a high-schooler.
But it’s more than that, too. The letter to Vic’s mom telling her where to spread her husband’s ashes was an extremely touching, romantic, and heartbreaking letter, and the places he listed were all significant to their relationship. He didn’t even give place names for the locations; he described them in riddle-like language so that Vic didn’t even know what they meant and had to puzzle them out (obviously his mom would have known). What also bothered me is that Vic decides that it’s his grand quest to spread his father’s ashes when clearly the job was meant for his mother. I thought: if I was Vic’s mom, I’d feel left out of a very personal, important sense of closure. This didn’t even occur to Vic until like 80 pages later. He should have realized it right after reading the letter, considering how the intimately the letter had been written to her! I guess Vic believed that if his mother hadn’t yet done the task, maybe she never was going to, and then she got engaged and therefore didn’t care. But that’s not how Vic’s mother struck me. I think she just needed some time. Everyone grieves differently. It was such an immature thing to do to not stop and think about how this action would have effected his mother.
The general feel of this book was definitely empowering to teens. It draws many parallels to The Outsiders, which is Mad’s favorite book, and she quotes it a lot. It paints teens as strong people who have the wit and resiliency to get through some extremely tough shit. Teenage readers would respond really well to this, and many need this kind of empowering lit. But as an adult reader, you can definitely see through to their immaturity, which was why this was an interesting and complex read. David Arnold understands teens.
I give this book 3/5 stars. Recommended for John Green fans (and S.E. Hinton fans), and moreso for teens.