I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction – I don’t dislike it, and it’s an area I like to dip my toe into from time to time, but it’s never going to be my “go to” genre. I requested Kids of Appetite on a whim; I thought it sounded interesting, and I was intrigued by the blurb. And I’m so glad I did! Kids of Appetite is a wonderful novel – a quick read that is both amusing and poignant.
Set in New Jersey, Kids of Appetite opens in a police interview room, where Bruno Victor Benucci III (Vic) is being interviewed by the police as a witness to a murder. In another interview room, his friend Madelaine (Mad) Falco is also being questioned.
Why were they there?
What was their involvement?
And why are they stalling for time in their interviews?
All stories start somewhere, and their story begins two years earlier when Vic’s father died. Struggling to cope with this, Vic has been unable to touch the urn holding his father’s ashes. Until, a week preceding the aforementioned murder, Vic’s mum’s new boyfriend proposes, and Vic runs away, taking the urn with him.
Falling in with a group of misfits and runaways, including the alluring Mad, he opens the urn and finds a message inside. And this message sends Vic on a quest – one that will bring him first love, new friends, but also to the scene of a murder.
I’ve referred to the characters as misfits – and that is exactly what they are:
- Brothers Baz and Zuz Kabongo were forced to flee their native Congo during the civil war – in America they’ve been passed around various foster homes, although they are now old enough to make their own way in the world
- Mad’s parents died in a car accident when she was young, and she was taken in by an abusive uncle who drinks too much
- Coco – an eleven-year-old girl from Queens, and one time foster sister of Baz and Zuz, until her father walked out on them all
- And then there’s Vic – Vic is as much of an outsider as you’re likely to come across, someone who tries to just keep his head down and not get noticed by the school bullies
Somehow, they all fit together to form a close knit gang (I don’t mean the sort that terrorise the neighbourhood), despite their idiosyncrasies.
And when the kids needed someone most, someone to love and trust, they found one another, and they called themselves the Kids of Appetite, and they lived and they laughed and they saw that it was good.
These are the kind of kids that may come across as being a little pretentious or precocious – they’re all smart and witty, they like intelligent wordplay and they philosophise about life. Coco in particular is a little irritating, and yet I warmed to them all as the novel progressed, largely because of how they support and look after each other.
Vic has Moebius Syndrome – a rare congenital neurological disorder which often results in facial paralysis and an inability to smile or frown. This immediately singles Vic out at school (which is one of the least forgiving places to be different or unique in anyway) and in the streets where people either stare, or look away, pretending not to notice. He is treated as an idiot, when he is anything but. There are some beautiful, heart-warming scenes where the gang gather around him to shield him from those who don’t want to be faced with someone different. Kids of Appetite has a lot to say about acceptance, and the idea that it’s ok to be unique.
If I have a minor niggling problem with the novel, it’s that it, perhaps unintentionally, romanticises homelessness a little. This group are extremely lucky, in that they have a network of friends and well-wishers who provide food and shelter – they don’t have a lot, but they have more than some. It’s a minor point however, and doesn’t detract from the novel.
Kids of Appetite was published in September by Headline. Many thanks to Katie Bradburn for providing a copy for review via BookBridgr.