About one year ago I read David Arnold's Mosquitoland after it was nominated for Best Young Adult Fiction in the 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards. I enjoyed it a great deal, which made my decision to pick up Kids of Appetite (or, They Lived and They Laughed and They Saw That It Was Good) an easy one. Sure, getting me to pick up a young adult novel is like shooting fish in a barrel, but still. Mosquitoland left me wanting to read more from Arnold, so Kids of Appetite was an easy selection.
The Situation: Bruno Victor Benucci III, or Vic, is a 16 year-old kid in Hackensack, New Jersey. He is smart, funny, loves opera, loves art, loves his mom, and his holding on tightly to the memory of his dad. Many people miss out on the awesomeness that is Vic because of their first impression of him, which, because he has Moebius syndrome, often makes then uncomfortable. Moebius syndrome is a rare congenital neurological syndrome that causes facial paralysis. Vic cannot smile, or frown. Any emotion that shows through his face comes out only in his eyes. But if you take time to know him, or simply pay attention, you can tell what he is feeling. Of course, people could also talk to him like they would with any other person. That also works. And the book opens with someone wanting very much to have a conversation with Vic, but the situation is less than ideal. The pages that follow tell us the story of how exactly Vic ended up in a conversation with Sergeant Sarah Mendes of the Hackensack Police, in interrogation room #3.
The Problem: Eight days before Vic ends up in the interrogation room, he fled his home where he lives with his mother, clutching his father's urn, with little more than his backpack and his iPod. He even forgot his cell phone. During those eight days, he will manage to meet four people who treat him like the family he feels he no longer has, not since his father passed away. The four strangers - who include the beautiful and independent Mad; the quiet but observant Zuz; the protective and level-headed Baz; and the fierce and always hungry Coco - not only take Vic in without knowing anything about him, but they also help him spread his father's ashes, with only a somewhat vague list of clues to go by. But when the unlikely group discovers that one of their own may be in very real danger, the already strange adventure takes a surprising turn, and lands three of them in police custody. Now they must explain themselves, but slowly, and without giving away too much too quickly, otherwise everything will fall apart, even more than it has. There is really only one rule, they can let the police think what they want, but they cannot lie.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction novel set in Hackensack, New Jersey in middle to late December. The main protagonist is Vic, though the point of view for the narration switches between him and Mad. After opening on the scene between Sergeant Mendes and Vic in interrogation room #3, the story then goes back eight days before to reveal how the group got themselves in their current position. Periodically, the story will go back to not only interrogation room #3, but also interrogation room #2, where Mad is being questioned by Detective Bundle. Obviously, something serious has happened, and chapter by chapter, what occurred is revealed, as well as how, along with the mystery of where Vic's father wanted his ashes spread. This novel is many things. There is a crime mystery, a scavenger hunt of sorts, a love story, a lesson about our often unwarranted fear of the outsider, and even a story about refugees and the horrors many of them have had to face at a young age. My point? There is a lot going on in this novel, making its story as diverse as the characters within it.
My Verdict: I think I actually enjoyed Kids of Appetite more than I did Mosquitoland. Despite the feeling I often had of having read a story like this one before (the interrogation reminded me of The Butterfly Garden; the switching points of view reminded me of All the Bright Places; the main protagonist with a condition that alters his appearance reminded me of The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko; and the scavenger hunt reminded me of Paper Towns), all of the different elements combine nicely to make a story that was never boring, rarely frustrating, and often endearing while somehow remaining fun and not too heavy-handed, despite some of the stuff these characters have been through. I feel like Arnold just went for it, and did the research necessary to pull off a book like this. At times it could get overwhelming or confusing, but having the Cast of Characters list at the beginning certainly helped.
Favorite Moment: When Vic attempts to spread his father's ashes at one of many locations and the wind ends up blowing the ashes back in everyone's faces.
Favorite Character: Nzuzi Kabongo, or Zuz, is Baz's younger brother. He only responds and communicates by snapping, but always manages to get his point across if you are willing to pay attention. Also, dude can throw a punch.
Favorite Quote: "And in the ongoing debate between ridicule and pity and which was the greater offense, here were the sides in short summation: ridicule was generally thoughtless, but intentional; pity was generally thought through, but unintentional."
Recommended Reading: Of course, Mosquitoland goes pretty much without saying. But also I will recommend The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. It is Mad's favorite book, one she is constantly reading, and she even has a theory named for it: The Hinton Vortex. Also, Arnold himself may have employed said theory in writing Kids of Appetite, but that may be me looking too far into things...maybe.