Review published on November 10, 2016.
David Arnold’s second YA novel opens in a Hackensack, New Jersey Police Department interrogation room. Someone is dead, but we don’t learn who, why or how for quite a while. For now, the reader’s task is to figure out how the events of the past week have landed sixteen-year-old Vic Benucci and his new girlfriend, Mad Falco, here; and why they are trying to drag out their questioning for as long as possible. They’re stalling, but to what end?
The first thing to explain about Vic is that he has Moebius syndrome, which causes facial paralysis. Unable to blink, cry, smile, or stop leaking drool, Vic comes in for a lot of mockery. What’s more, he’s still smarting from his father’s death from cancer two years ago. He can’t stand to see his mother trying to replace the love of her life with new boyfriend Frank, so one night he grabs the urn containing his father’s ashes and runs away. He soon falls in with a strange quartet: Baz and Zuz, Congolese refugee brothers in their twenties, eleven-year-old Coco from Queens, and Mad, with whom he falls in love almost instantly.
Like Vic, all of the characters have their own emotional baggage, but they are like a family for each other. “There was something Oz-like about the whole thing,” Vic marvels, “as if I’d stepped into a portal and been transported to some bizarre world with an unexplained set of rules and a pack of reckless, parentless wild kids.” They let him stay in their suburban orchard digs and help him scatter his father’s ashes in the five locations he requested in a riddle-like final letter to his wife. It’s like a scavenger hunt as Vic and his new friends spend the week searching for places that defined his parents’ romance. But things turn darker when Mad goes back home to check up on her dementia-addled grandmother.
The first-person perspective shifts from Vic to Mad throughout, and flips between their respective interrogation rooms and the account of the preceding week. Arnold does a good job of giving each character a backstory and some defining quirks, like Mad’s obsession with S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and Coco’s love for ice cream, rap music and fake cursing. The novel is romantic and heartwarming but edgy at the same time, and I think will go down well with its teen audience. However, I found the title club and its mottoes a bit gimmicky. I didn’t like this quite as much as Arnold’s previous book, Mosquitoland, but I’d recommend it to fans of Jesse Ball’s How to Set a Fire and Why, R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, and books by John Green.
Rebecca Foster 3/4
Kids of Appetite by David Arnold
Headline 9781472218957 pbk September 2016
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