This substantive and emotional coming-of-age story is about love, friendship, and the beauty of being different. Arnold's second novel is as layered as an onion. As in one of Melina Marchetta's or Andrew Smith's stories, there's a whole lot about family relationships, the life-changing power of a beloved song, artist, book (in this case, "The Flower Duet," Matisse, and The Outsiders play major roles), and the never-ending process that is grief. Vic's Moebius may cause the paralysis of his face, but those lucky enough to see the "simmering underneath" know he's a brilliant, emotive guy who misses everything about his father -- even the things that used to annoy him. And Vic's grief is just one of many kinds explored. All of the five friends have gone through unspeakable losses.
There's a lot to unpack in the story, and young readers who prefer lighthearted romances will need to dig deeper to finish it. There are two points of view (Vic's and Mad's) but a large cast of characters, and the other Kids of Appetite have equally as compelling (and heartbreaking) stories -- as do the not-so-random others who help the KoA crew with their various missions. Twenty-seven-year-old Baz, the paternal leader of the group, and his 20-year-old silent brother, Nzuzi, who communicates by snapping his fingers, experienced enough violence and tragedy by age 3 (Baz) and 10 (Nzuzi) to last many lifetimes. Eleven-year-old Coco, their foster sister and unofficial ward, curses like a sailor and pulls no punches. She's from Queens, after all. And Mad and Vic's love story is one of extreme opposites who realize they're actually alike where it counts. Lovely and powerful, this book is best for readers who like nuanced relationship stories and who are up to the task of, like Vic, figuring out how to be a "super racehorse" in a world filled with "aspiring rental car entrepreneurs."