Review: KIDS OF APPETITE by David Arnold

It’s no secret that David Arnold is a good friend of mine, and that we occasionally read for one another, but trust me when I say that even if I’d never met him, I’d still be a fervent fan. There’s just something about the way his characters see the world — hope and wonder tempered with dry, razor-sharp wit — that is simultaneously endlessly fun to read while being deeply moving. I’m not typically the speediest reader, but with David’s stories…well, let’s just say that if they were cookies, I might as well be a hairy blue monster with giant googly eyes and an insatiable sweet tooth. And after David’s phenomenal debut Mosquitoland, I know I wasn’t the only one waiting with bated breath for his sophomore novel, Kids of Appetite.

Also, to pull back the curtain just a tad, I’d like to draw attention to this video David made about the four individuals with Moebius Syndrome who helped him bring Vic to life. As I’ve heard him say many times, they did more than just help him get Vic right; without them, there would be no Vic at all.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Victor Benucci and Madeline Falco have a story to tell.
It begins with the death of Vic’s father.
It ends with the murder of Mad’s uncle.
The Hackensack Police Department would very much like to hear it.
But in order to tell their story, Vic and Mad must focus on all the chapters in between.

This is a story about:

1. A coded mission to scatter ashes across New Jersey.
2. The momentous nature of the Palisades in winter.
3. One dormant submarine.
4. Two songs about flowers.
5. Being cool in the traditional sense.
6. Sunsets & ice cream & orchards & graveyards.
7. Simultaneous extreme opposites.
8. A narrow escape from a war-torn country.
9. A story collector.
10. How to listen to someone who does not talk.
11. Falling in love with a painting.
12. Falling in love with a song.
13. Falling in love.

My Thoughts:

It’s always a little risky, both as a writer and a reader, taking on a book told from multiple points of view. It’s hard enough to find a book with one narrator I love, let alone two or more. Throw on top of that a non-linear structure — KIDS OF APPETITE opens on a scene that actually takes place near the end of the story, with the bulk of the narrative told in flashback — and in less capable hands, you might have a recipe for literary disaster.

Fortunately, David Arnold is far more than capable, and KIDS OF APPETITE is an often poignant, occasionally hilarious, surprisingly twisty delight from start to finish.

The central characters of KIDS OF APPETITE are a boy, Victor “Vic” Benucci, and a girl, Madeline “Mad” Falco, who meet by chance two years after the death of Vic’s father, and wind up profoundly changing each other’s lives forever. The narrative flips between both of their POVs, and alternates between their separate interrogations in a police station, and the events that brought them there. It’s a tricky structure, but it works. Both voices are sharp and distinctive, and the skips back and forth in time flow well, and are never jarring or confusing.

Vic is a boy still grieving his father’s death following a long illness. After fleeing his house during a particularly upsetting night, Vic encounters Mad and the rest of the Kids of Appetite — Baz and Zuz, refugee brothers from the Republic of the Congo, and Coco, an 11-year-old girl with a boundless imagination and a penchant for swearing. The four Kids live together in a neglected greenhouse, where they spend their time musing upon life, making grand declarations, and, every now and then, deciding to take it upon themselves to make someone else’s life better. When Vic and the Kids collide, they set out on a mission to fulfill his father’s final wish, and in doing so, bring Vic the closure he so desperately needs. But even as they are all working to help Vic, Vic is focused on Mad, who, despite her guarded exterior, he suspects could use some help of her own.

As the story went on, I fell in love with each of these characters. As in David Arnold’s previous book, MOSQUITOLAND, the members of his cast are like a bunch of mismatched puzzle pieces coming together to to form a sort of Wes Anderson-ized whole, full of quirks and flaws and idiosyncrasies that may make them an odd fit anywhere else, but work perfectly with each other. David Arnold’s great strength as a writer is in painting his characters with a vivid brush, and then stepping back and allowing them to shine through their dialogue as they interact with each other, and that talent is on full display here. In both the large moments and the small, loud and quiet, it was a joy to experience life with these characters, and to watch them live and laugh and see that it was good.

I want to take a moment to talk about the disability representation with Vic, who has a rare neurological disorder known as Moebius Syndrome, which is characterized by complete or partial facial paralysis. Before reading KIDS OF APPETITE, I had never even heard of Moebius Syndrome, and certainly had never met anyone who had it. It was evident in reading Vic’s point-of-view that David was very aware that this might be the first exposure many of his readers have to Moebius, as well as the first time his readers with Moebius see someone like them represented in fiction. The care and attention to detail was clear, and there is an author’s note at the end which thanks four individuals with Moebius for consulting closely on the development of Vic’s character. While I am not disabled, I am a strong proponent of increased diversity in fiction, as I believe that reading about a broad spectrum of human experiences can only serve to increase empathy. There are so few books out there with disabled protagonists, and even fewer where the author really opened themselves up to input from the community they are aiming to represent. And while KIDS OF APPETITE is definitely not a book about Moebius, I really appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into crafting Vic and making sure that the portrayal of a character with Moebius was accurate.

In the end, KIDS OF APPETITE is a beautiful story of grief and healing, of friendship and found family, of first impressions and broadened horizons, and of how you can know someone so well, yet discover there are parts of them you never knew at all. It is in turns funny and heartfelt, thrilling and surprising and gutting. It is a brilliant, honest, Super Racehorse of a book, and one I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who loves great stories.

In which I return, I think.

*blows dust and cobwebs off blog*

Hello readers! Sorry I vanished for a while there. I was deep in my revision cave, which is not — I think — nearly so dank and dark as other writers’ revision caves, but was still a marathon event where my computer chair molded to my body (or possibly the other way around) and I subsisted on frozen food and coffee and Cheetos. Dark times indeed. In case you’re wondering what it feels like to be in a revision cave, it’s basically this, but with more junk food:

The good news is I do have a loving (and exceedingly patient and understanding) husband, as well as amazing writer friends who totally get me. So they never really let me get to Oblio levels of isolation. (By the way, we have all seen The Point, yes? Because that movie is truly fabulous, and utterly unique and creative. I’ve loved it since forever.)

This will probably only get worse if/when I ever actually…you know…have a real deadline and not just one I made up (there was a Legit!Reason! for making it up, but even so, I made it up). But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

But for now I can say I’m done! I’ve revised my fantasy for the bajillionth time, and I think this one’s going to stick. And by “stick,” I mean I am not voluntarily going to do anything else to it unless someone in authority tells me to. I will no longer go in and tweak and finesse because I got an epiphany on the way to preschool and IT’S EXACTLY PERFECT. No. I am done. Even though immediately after sending it out to the aforementioned People In Authority, I also sent it to my husband, and he noticed an error on page one.


I told him not to tell me if he finds more, for the good of my sanity and our marriage.

Meanwhile, I have a New Shiny Idea I’m excited to jump on, and hey, maybe I’ll actually READ something that is a real book on real shelves in real stores that real people buy. That is a novel [*PUNALERT*] idea. And then I can blog about it! For YOU!

Speaking of blogging, I’m going to upgrade my posting timeline from “Seriously, did you die?” to “Is there any rhyme or reason to the frequency of your posts? Because it feels like no.”

Which means I will post about things, but I want to set the bar reaaaaal low in terms of how often you will read them. Because I love blogging, and I love reading, and I love blogging about reading. But the writing bug has attacked and will not let me go, like a Time Beetle only without all the destructive parallel world complications. But rest assured, when I do post, it will be a more exciting read than this one. I hope.

I have NOT fallen off the face of the planet


This is not what’s happened.

The truth is I’ve gotten busy. I’ve been revising my book (ARRRRRGH REVISING) and reading drafts for friends and occasionally putting on pants and leaving my house to interact with other humans.

What I have not been doing? Reading books that actually exist or are soon to exist, ie: filling my brain with content for this blog. Hence the great big NOTHING you’ve seen here the past couple weeks.

(Oh, I also saw Jurassic Park 3D. That movie HOLDS UP, people.)

So never fear. This isn’t so much a scheduled break as a lack of inspiration. I’ll pick it back up soon-ish. In the meantime, if you miss me, come say hi on Twitter.

(If I fall off Twitter…send help.)

My Triumphant Return! And a few changes.

Hello friends! I’m back from my travels!

(I may be exaggerating the extent of my travels just a wee bit.)

I hope the holidays treated you well, and that you are having a fabulous 2013 so far.

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my blog, and about what I want it to be when it grows up. And here’s what I’ve come up with:

1) Fun. I started blogging as a creative outlet, and a place to connect with other people who like the same sorts of books I do. I did not start blogging so I could read books I don’t like, so I could stress about page hits or comment count, or so I could feel like a failure if I didn’t hit my goal for number of reviews or books read. So from here on out, folks, I’m embracing the fun.

That means I may not post as frequently sometimes, because real life comes first. But when I do, it’ll be happy posts that I actually care about.

2) Enough negativity. Something that really got driven home for me in 2012 with all the fabulous book events that I went to is that authors are people too. People who love stories. People who love to tell stories. People who, often, work full-time jobs while also writing books, for us, so that we can have more stories. And that’s amazing. And you know what? Even when I may not be too fond of a particular story, someone out there loves it. And that’s fantastic, because these authors put so much work into their books, and it would be really sad if no one liked them.

So I’ve decided I’m not going to do negative reviews anymore. I’m still going to do honest reviews. But I will only do them about books I really enjoyed. After all, the purpose of this blog is to help people find and discuss great books — not to put down books I didn’t like.

This will also alleviate the stress of feeling like I must finish books I’m not enjoying. Because blogging is an unpaid hobby, which means it should be fun. And what’s the fun in forcing your way through a so-so book?

The main impact I see this having for the blog is that I may sometimes go a while between reviews, waiting until I read a book worthy of singing its praises online. But in between I can talk about other stuff, like movies, or bookish discussions, or memes. And I think that’s fine.

I’m also doing away with rating books. I’ll share thoughts on books I liked, and if it sounds like something you want to read, then read it.

3) Time to be flexible. I honestly don’t have any idea what this year is going to bring. So I’m not going to make a hard-and-fast plan about how I want to tackle the year. I’m just going to roll with the punches and see what happens.

And never fear: I read some AWESOME books over the past few weeks, so I’ll definitely be posting some reviews soon. Prepare for greatness.

So here’s to a year of great books and enjoyable blogging and…who knows? I’m excited. Are you excited?

Taking a Break

So you may have noticed that I haven’t been posting as often lately, and there is a simple explanation: I haven’t been reading a lot lately. Life has been crazy with both holiday and non-holiday-related stuff, and I’ve wandered through the last few weeks feeling pretty much like this:

In case it needs to be said, I am Thor in this scenario.

As a side effect of the crazy, I haven’t cracked a book in three weeks. And you know what? It’s kind of hard to run a book review blog when you’re not reading.

Since I don’t want to turn into a memes-only blog (which is basically what I’ve been recently), I’ve decided to just officially drop off the grid for a few weeks. Hopefully, over the holidays, I’ll get some reading done and recharge my batteries. And then I’ll be back in January, ready to climb back on the horse.

So enjoy your holidays, and have a fabulous (and responsible) New Year’s. I’ll see you on the flip side.