Kids of Appetite

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Kids of Appetite Book Poster Image
Layered misfits story explores grief, friendship, love.

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Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about Moebius syndrome, a rare neurological disorder characterized by facial weakness and paralysis, as well as its many symptoms and side effects. Readers will be exposed to the function of super racehorses; the opera Lakmé's most famous aria, "The Flower Duet"; as well as Matisse's many paintings, the tenets of abstract art, Battlestar Galactica, the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Elliott Smith, and other historical, artistic, and literary themes, facts, ideas, and works, such as S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders.

Positive Messages

There's beauty in asymmetry, in difference; friends can and should help one another; redemption is possible. The book also encourages teens to look beyond the surface, to read and experience art /music/movies deeply, and to be compassionate and empathetic with others, because everyone has a "story."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Baz is a caring big brother to many people. He helps others and has a strong code of ethics. Vic is intelligent, kind, and funny despite the constant looks and questions about his condition. Vic's father and Baz/Nzuzi's mother, although deceased, play an instrumental role in their thinking and missions.

Violence

An abusive character is killed in self-defense. References to abuse and unspeakable genocide in Rwanda and Congo that leave characters orphans. Mad tells the story of the accident that killed her parents, and Vic often speaks of his dying father, the cancer that took him, and his grief. A man holds a character by the neck and nearly kills him.

Sex

A few mentions of sex, desire, and "wanting," but only a couple of actual kisses in the story. A character recalls how affectionate his parents and grandparents were. Another character recalls witnessing a parent having an affair.

Language

Regular but not frequent use of strong language (sometimes said by an 11-year-old character), includes "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "douche," "d--k," and the frequent use of "frak" (made popular in Battlestar Galactica) as a substitute swear word.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A major character regularly smokes cigarettes.

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.

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Teen, 15 years old Written byheavene August 25, 2018

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?

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