Originally published October 2016
Two books in, and one thing is clear—David Arnold knows grieving kids well.
Arnold’s latest is “Kids of Appetite,” a followup to one of my favorites in the last few years, “Mosquitoland.” Both involve teens mourning the loss of a parent, and both involve journeys of self-discovery. Full disclosure: I lost my biological father just before I turned 12. So for me, Arnold’s characters are especially easy with which to relate.
Like KOA’s lead, Vic Benucci, my family too had our dad’s ashes at home for a long time. And, like Vic, I found them impossible to touch. And yes, like Vic,my tween/teen self had a hard time watching life march forward. So, when Vic storms out of the house, his father’s ashes in tow, when his mother is proposed to by her new boyfriend, it wasn’t a stretch for me to believe that yes, that does happen.
And that’s where Vic’s journey begins and Arnold’s story takes off.
Vic attaches himself to a small group of homeless kids in Hackensack, NJ—two Congolese refugees, Baz and Zuz; an 11-year-old runaway with ties to Baz, Coco; and Mad, an orphan and the immediate object of Vic’s desire. The self-professed Kids of Appetite make their way through the days with the help of locals loyal to Baz and often the recipients of his kindness.
Some are “Chapters”—friends of Baz that want to return the kindness directed their way. And it’s this help that affords the crew a place to stay at night and the occasional free meal, all while Baz works to save money to start a cab company. When Vic joins up with the group, and shares his intent—to follow instructions from his father that he found inside the urn—it’s then that a new journey falls into place, and the group works to identify the sometimes cryptic clues to help Vic satisfy his father’s last wish.
Along the way, Vic and Mad learn more about themselves—and each other—and with it, find that it is possible to move on from probably the worst loss a kid can suffer. And that love and friendship and loyalty aren’t reserved only for the few or the lucky.
It all works out Vic, I promise.
Oh, and did I mention the police think Baz killed someone? So if grief and self-discovery isn’t gripping enough, the murder mystery, with a very cool twist, should keep readers engaged.
I’m not a huge fan of the YA label in that so many “YA” books are immensely enjoyable by all ages, but if you feel the urge to throw a YA book into your reading rotation, I heartily recommend “Kids of Appetite.”