A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Kids of Appetite is the second New York Times-bestselling novel by author David Arnold (Mosquitoland).The story follows a group of five outsiders -- orphans and misfits -- who band together to help the main character scatter his father's ashes in various places throughout New Jersey and New York. There's occasional strong language, a few kisses, and references to domestic abuse, adultery, and more disturbing recollections of civil war and family deaths. The author has filled the book with references to real music, art, and books, as well as historical events, which should resonate with curious teen readers. An exploration of first love, the beauty of asymmetry, and the power of friendship, Kids of Appetite is a winning pick for book lovers who enjoy contemporary, realistic fiction.
What's the story?
KIDS OF APPETITE, author David Arnold's follow-up to his critically acclaimed Mosquitoland, is inspired by The Outsiders and follows a group of five Hackensack, New Jersey, misfits who are all different in some way. Main character Vic Benucci III is not a typical 16-year-old. Because of a rare neurological condition called Moebius syndrome, Vic is unable to move his face muscles and can't close his eyes, among other things. His father, who was also his best friend, died a couple of years ago, and on the night his widowed mom gets a marriage proposal from her widower boyfriend, Vic loses it, steals his father's urn, and runs away. He bumps into Mad, the other main character, a 17-year-old orphan who spends her time in a commune of sorts with a pair of paternal Congolese brothers Baz and Nzuzi and their 11-year-old charge, Coco. Together, the foursome adopts Vic and helps him on his mission to scatter his dad's ashes. But somehow eight days later, the five friends are caught up in an investigation of murder and kidnapping.
Is it any good?
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."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the Kids of Appetite characters exemplify empathy, communication, and teamwork. Who acts as a role model in the book?
What's so compelling about protagonists who are grieving? Why are orphans such a staple of young adult and children's literature?
How do you think the author explores disability and diversity in the story? What did you learn about Moebius syndrome and refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
- Author: David Arnold
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, High School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: September 20, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 352
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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