Review: Kids of Appetite by David Arnold

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Kids of Appetite by David ArnoldKids of Appetite by David Arnold
Published by Viking Juvenile on September 20, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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four-stars

The bestselling author of Mosquitoland brings us another batch of unforgettable characters in this tragicomedy about first love and devastating loss.

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.

Last year, I read Arnold’s debut novel, Mosquitoland. I liked it, but it wasn’t really a Christina book. Reading the copy about Kids of Appetite, I had my suspicions this book would be much the same: good, but not my thing really. Still, I decided to take a chance, because I assumed it would be high quality and, well, you never know. Kids of Appetite actually worked so much better for me. It’s a beautiful, quirky, clever story about grief, forgiveness, and found families.

As with Mosquitoland, Kids of Appetite has massive amounts of quirk. To an unbelievable degree. I don’t think that’s really a bad thing, but come to this book for fiction not a direct reflection of life. To be clear, I think Arnold does a really beautiful job highlighting real issues, but the actual plot  and characters aren’t too believable.The way the interrogation with the cops goes and the fact that these kids are living in a greenhouse on an orchard entirely out of the system just doesn’t really jive with reality. And, no matter how much you love The Outsiders, who on earth would read it over and over again back to back forever?

Kids of Appetite also features massively smart kids who talk like adults, while acting like teens. They speak pretentiously, full of knowledge most people don’t have and dropping deep lines on the regular, despite the fact that some of them have likely had spotty education and most of them have had fucked up lives. In eleven-year-old Coco this is most apparent, and she rarely comes off as actually being that young.

All of that said, though, it all just really comes together and works through some form of authorial alchemy. Foul-mouthed, well-spoken, outspoken rap-writing Coco is funny and adorable. The writing seems to fit the characters or maybe the characters fit the writing. Context is so important, like how incredibly romantic lines can either be the swooniest or the creepiest or the sappiest depending on the relationship between the characters and the circumstances. Kids of Appetite really sells it, makes all of the absurdity feel possible within its own fictional context. That might sound like a direct contradiction of what I said above but whatever I swear it makes sense in my head.

Kids of Appetite is the story of five kids, who have found each other, one of whom is now under arrest for the murder of another one’s Uncle. Each chapter opens with either Victor or Madeline being interrogated about Baz, trying to get them to admit that Baz committed the crime and they’ve been lying out of fear of him. Vic and Mad draw the interrogation out for reasons that won’t become clear until the denouement. The cops take this surprisingly well and listen to Vic and Mad’s only vaguely related rambling. As I said, the plot doesn’t really enter the realm of believable.

The murder mystery element works as a framing device and a hook to keep the reader going, but it’s actually not what the book’s really about. The mystery is a fun little addition that helps keep things lively and keep the book fast-paced. Given that it’s not remotely the actual focus, Arnold does an amazing job with it. The revelation of what’s actually transpired satisfies and amuses, and this plot adds some subtle commentary about the racism of the police force in America without being a book about that. If Baz weren’t black, things would have played out very differently.

Kids of Appetite focuses instead on dealing with grief, finding forgiveness, and moving on.  The novel opens (well after that first interrogation scene) with Vic’s mother being proposed to by Frank the Boyfriend, which sends Vic into a teenage tantrum after which he runs out of the house. He ends up finding Mad, who hooks him up with Baz’s little crew (after letting him sleep the night on the bloody floor of a warehouse with pig bodies hanging from the ceiling—again not the most realistic and also ew). Vic took his father’s urn with him and finds a letter within. The letter directs the dispersal of his ashes in places that meant a lot to him.

The ash dispersal journey teaches Vic about his parents. He simultaneously gets to know his father better and truly accepts that he’s gone. In the inevitable but emotionally cathartic climax, he forgives his mom for grieving differently and moving on sooner and for wanting to be with someone else so different from his father. The fact that this plot actually is so predictable and has been done before is part of why the quirkiness of Arnold’s writing works so well, because it adds excitement and flair to what could have been a banal story.

All five of the kids are really likable and vibrant. Vic, Mad, and Coco are white; Baz and Zuz are black brothers, orginally from Brazaville. While I do wish that the story hadn’t been primarily from the perspective of and about the two white kids, I do like the portrayal of the Kabongo brothers a lot. Zuz in particular could easily have been a problematic figure, since he doesn’t speak and communicates by snapping, but he’s never played for humor. In fact, Baz and Zuz are the most respected ones in the group, and Baz has been the one protecting and supporting the kids. The found family feels are real, even if I do really think Coco needs to be in school.

The romance between Vic and Mad, while not shippy for me also kind of worked. Kind of doesn’t sound great, I know, but considering how massively obsessively into Mad Vic is, it’s a miracle that I don’t unship this with a passion. She comes so close to being an MPDG type figure because he sees her as such perfection. It helps obviously that she has a first person POV and plot as well, though her emotional arc ends up a bit buried underneath the murder mystery. It’s also cool that you get to see that she’s actually into him and finds his Moebius syndrome, which makes it so that he can’t blink or close his eyes, unique and interesting, rather than off-putting. Again, in the context, Arnold manages to make it all work, and I don’t really know how.

This review has been a bit all over the place, and I definitely need to stop myself. Kids of Appetite is so hard to explain, because there’s some magic in these pages. Based on everything I’ve written and the book’s description, I really wouldn’t think I’d be into it, but I enjoyed it massively from page one and couldn’t put it down. Basically what I’m saying is: even if this doesn’t sound like a You book, it might be worth a go.

Favorite Quote:

“Different skin colors, eye colors,” says Vic, “different families and histories and ways to love. It’s better that way. We get Joey Ramone and Miles David.” The crowd chuckles quietly. “So you were born like that”—he points to the kid’s face—”and I was born like this.” He points to his own.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif-cowboy-bebop-edward-dancing-on-the-road

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