Here’s a really broad generalisation about YA; while I may love the characters, the settings, the relationships, the action, the humour and about a thousand other things, I don’t often find myself drooling over the style of the writing. Last year, I finally found a book which had me thinking, “man, why can’t I write like this?” all the way through, as well as causing me to fall in love with the characters, the settings, the relationships, the action, the humour and about a thousand other things; that book was David Arnold’s Mosquitoland, which is not only one of my favourite books of the last year but probably one of my favourites ever. So to say I’ve been eagerly anticipating Arnold’s follow-up, Kids of Appetite, would be something of an understatement.
Kids of Appetite has much in common with Mosquitoland, thematically; in lots of ways, it’s sort of a gender-flipped version of Arnold’s first novel, with Vic as the protagonist in place of Mim, and an equally charming group of reprobates and miscreants, the eponymous Kids of Appetite, who adopt Vic as their family. This idea of forging your own family in the wake of losing a parent is also shared with Mosquitoland, although, in this case, it’s permanent; Vic’s father died two years ago and his defection to the Kids is triggered by his mother’s relationship with Frank the Boyfriend. As if that’s not enough for a teenager to deal with, Vic also suffers from Moebius syndrome, a condition that involves total facial paralysis; unable to even blink or smile, he’s picked on by his imbecile classmates and frequently assumed to be unintelligent or rude. Fleeing his family home with his dad’s ashes in tow, Vic embarks on a mission to appropriately commemorate him and learns a lot about his parents along the way.
I used to think love was bound by numbers: first kisses, second dances, infinite heartbreaks. I used to think numbers outlasted the love itself, surviving in the dark corners of the demolished heart. I used to think love was heavy and hard.
I don’t think those things anymore.
Aside from the emotionally involving story and accompanying mystery (the story is punctuated with police interviews with Vic and Mad, one of the Kids, concerning a murder) and the education I received here about Moebius syndrome, I’m basically in love with the way Arnold writes. There were so many sentences in this book that had me swooning. Another Kid, Coco, for example, is described as “(not) only skin and bones: she was survival and fight and ferocious loyalty that you just couldn’t find anywhere anymore.” At another point, Vic’s narrative, which alternates with Mad’s, instructs us to “consider this: billions of memories in a brain, each one drowning in a furious river, grasping and gasping for life, a twine of rope, an olive branch. It’s no accident, the memories that last. They are survivors.” There are loads of YA writers whose work I love, but I don’t know that any of them can turn a phrase like that. I really think I could read a David Arnold book in which literally nothing happened, if I could keep casting my eyes over sentences like “our breath walked with us, this exhale shooting a bit of soul into the air, that inhale sucking a piece of heart into our throats.”
So much of what I loved about Mosquitoland (did I mention that I love Mosquitoland?) is present in Kids of Appetite too; the general weirdness, the plot events which seem realistic while you’re reading but kind of magical when you are forced to leave the world of the book, the intelligent and challenging style. Reading Kids of Appetite made me think of all the things I really love about immersing myself in a book, especially in such a beautifully written one. And now I want to read Mosquitoland again.