Review: Kids of Appetite by David Arnold

kids-of-appetiteHere’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.

Top Ten Tuesday: A Rubbish Attempt to Choose My Favourite Albums

I’ve spent weeks trying to think of a clever spin on this week’s TTT, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, which is billed as ‘audio week.’ I did a list a few months ago of theme songs for books and also wrote a lengthy post about fictional characters’ taste in music, so I wanted to do something that combined books and music here, but have drawn a blank because I am back at school now and my brain is fried. So I decided to stop being a smartarse and just make a list of my favourite albums. It turns out that it is actually impossible to limit this to 10, and so this is actually a list of 10 albums I really like a lot, followed by all the ones that should have been here. It’s hard being me.

The Queen is Dead by The Smiths
I happen to have a really weird love of very depressing music, although I will state for the record that I don’t actually find The Queen is Dead depressing. Partly because trying to sing like Morrissey is a very entertaining activity. Favourite track: Cemetry Gates

Grace by Jeff Buckley
This is such a beautiful album and it’s basically impossible to listen to it without feeling really sad that it was the only ‘full’ album Buckley made. I have gone through several stages of being completely obsessed with this album, particularly Lover, You Should Have Come Over which I think is essentially the most gorgeous song ever written. Favourite track: Lover, You Should Have Come Over

Parallel Lines by Blondie
I found this album on vinyl for 50p in a charity shop and it was the greatest purchase of my life. Debbie Harry is obviously the coolest woman ever and her vocals alternately bleed nonchalance and growling ferocity all over this. I love it. Favourite track: Sunday Girl

Everything Must Go by Manic Street Preachers
The Manics were one of the first ‘proper’ bands I ever got into, and this album came out at a formative time in my music-listening life. It turned 20 years old this year and I was lucky enough to watch the band play the album in full live. It was basically a religious experience. Favourite track: The Girl Who Wanted to be God (it’s named after a Sylvia Plath quote, which just makes it even better).

Aha Shake Heartbreak by Kings of Leon
I love the first album, but on this one you can actually understand the words which gives it a slight edge for me. I’ve been a fan of Kings of Leon for such a long time and am tentatively excited about their upcoming album; Mechanical Bull was a real return to form so I’m optimistic. Favourite track: Slow Night So Long

Fight Like Apes and the Mystery Medallion by Fight Like Apes
I randomly came across Fight Like Apes last year when BBC 6 Music playlisted Pretty Keen on Centrefolds, which led me back to their previous album. There is literally nothing about Mystery Medallion that isn’t brilliant. The songs are completely insane, there’s a satisfying amount of screaming, and one of them is about a character from California Dreams. What’s not to like? Favourite track: Jake Summers

London Calling by The Clash
I think this is a very predictable choice, and it’s a close-run thing between this and the first album, but London Calling wins because it’s got everything; the tenderness of Train in Vain, the foreboding of the title track (used in any US TV show that does a random London episode) and the euphoria of Death or Glory. A student gave me their vinyl copy of the album as a thank you present and it was the best thing ever. Favourite track: Clampdown

Antics by Interpol
I have a semi-worrying obsession with Interpol. I love the gloom. I love the moodiness. I love the lyrics that make no sense. I’ve seen them play live about a billion times and they are just the coolest. All their albums are great, but this is the one I’ve listened to the most. Favourite track: C’mere

Like Vines by The Hush Sound
Whatever happened to The Hush Sound? I’ve never seen them live and nobody else seems to have heard of them, which makes me worry that I made them up. In which case, I am very talented. Favourite track: Wine Red

More Adventurous by Rilo Kiley
Basically, I want to be Jenny Lewis. She is amazingly talented, supercool, has the voice of an angel and her hair is the colour that I put loads of effort into dyeing mine. Although not their first album, this was the first one I got hold of and I’ve listened to it a lot since then. There’s a really good mixture of different styles here, but all held together by Lewis’ distinctively gorgeous voice. Favourite track: Portions for Foxes

I’ve just made this list and then remembered the following, which has annoyed me: TLC’s CrazySexyCool, Hole’s Live Through This, Ben Folds Five self-titled album and, of course, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. And Is This It? by The Strokes. And the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s first album. Oh god. Look, obviously having to choose ten albums is just completely wrong, okay?

Review: Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whalley

highly illogical.jpgI read John Corey Whalley’s Noggin last year and have been recommending it to people ever since, so I’ve been keen to read Highly Illogical Behaviour for ages, since even before I was so cruelly denied an e-ARC on Netgalley. Not that I’m bitter about that or anything.

While Noggin has an outlandish and peculiar plot about a boy who receives a head transplant, Highly Illogical Behaviour is grounded more in everyday reality, centring on three characters: Solomon, who hasn’t left his house in 3 years; Lisa, an aspiring psychologist who decides she can “cure” his agoraphobia and get herself a college scholarship at the same time, and Clark, Lisa’s exceptionally nice boyfriend. I defy anyone to read this book and not feel huge amounts of affection for poor Solomon, whose anxiety resulted in an unfortunate and public incident in a water fountain , after which he never left the house again. His (present, caring – almost unheard of in contemporary YA!) parents obviously worry about the permanence of their son’s withdrawal from the world, and so they are thrilled when Lisa forces her way into their lives and seems to help Sol. In some ways, the book reminded me of Nicola Yoon’s Everything Everything, in its representation of a teenager restricted to their home and the introduction of a catalyst for change in the form of a new friend.

Lisa is a problematic character, but deliberately so; Whalley’s omniscient narrator makes it clear that there’s nothing inadvertent in the presentation of Lisa’s sneaky actions. Her determination and focus are, on the one hand, admirable; it’s really refreshing to read about a 17 year old who knows exactly what she wants in life. With these qualities, however, comes a worrying degree of ruthlessness; although she does genuinely come to like Sol, her ultimate ambition is always at the forefront of her mind, and her arrogance in thinking she can save Sol is hubristic. Despite this, she remains a sympathetic character, and it’s a real strength in Whalley’s writing, and a sign of the affection he clearly holds for his characters, that this is the case. Like Solomon, Clark is a delight to read, and the friendship between the 3 characters is both lovely and hilarious; the dialogue in Highly Illogical Behaviour is a work of art in itself, with plenty of intelligent humour but none of the Dawson’s Creek thesaurus-swallowing which is occasionally evident in YA.

Overall, I’d really recommend Highly Illogical Behaviour; Whalley addresses mental health issues in a way that’s both sympathetic and entertaining, with Sol perfectly able to laugh at what he recognises as the sillinesses of his situation. It’s a perfect read from start to finish, with no cliched fairy tale rescues, but plenty of touching scenes of friendship. I really enjoyed it.

Review: Vivian Versus the Apocalypse and Vivian Versus America by Katie Coyle

Have you read the Vivian Apple books by Katie Coyle? Can you go and do it now, please? Thanks.

Wait, you want more information? People are so difficult to please. Here’s what you need to know: Vivian Apple has a pretty serious problem. The Church of America, a shady religious group led by Beaton Frisk, seems to be taking over the world. Her parents have disappeared, along with a significant number of the US population, in the Rapture, and everyone left behind only has the impending apocalypse to look forward to. So, what does Vivian do? Does she mope around? Does she adopt the teachings of the Book of Frick herself and await the promised ‘Second Boat’? No, Vivian does not do any of these things; she grabs her badass best friend Harp and sets off on a dangerous yet hilarious road trip across the USA to take down the Church, find out what really happened to her parents and maybe hook up with a hottie as well. That’s the premise of the first book (Vivian Versus the Apocalypse); to say anything about the second would be to spoil the whole thing, so just believe me when I say both books are awesome.

The end of the world is generally seen as a bit of a drag; obviously, Vivian isn’t exactly ecstatic at the prospect of crazy hurricanes and food shortages, but she and Harp have the kind of inspiring, can-do attitude which I like in my apocalypse survivors. They’re also both extremely funny and Coyle has, rather ingeniously, infused their adventure with just enough danger to make the story exciting, while at the same time making it all sound really, really fun. If a mad fundamentalist church took over my country, I would use these two books as a blueprint for how to respond. Not that Vivian starts off as this much of a hero; at the outset, she’s meek and terrified and generally unprepared to take on a massive, shady religious organisation. Pretty soon, however, she’s a sledgehammer-wielding legend and I want her to be my friend.

Here are some other things I like about these books; each one is about 300 pages long, which is basically the perfect length, especially when the balance between pacy storytelling and enthralling character development is as good as it is here. Coyle is also razor-sharp in skewering the extreme right of Christianity in a way that’s on point in terms of satire but knowing rather than vicious. Some of her characters show a more moderate and cuddly form of religion, showing a viable alternative to the “Magdalening” and harassment evinced by the Church of America, so these are books which expose a certain kind of religious mania, rather than slating Christianity as a whole. It’s all really clever.

I’d never heard of these books until a couple of weeks ago when I stumbled upon a blog that mentioned them, and I’m so glad I did; Coyle has a voice that’s really different and refreshing, and a story that gives the end of the world a humorous spin. Go and read them now.

Just for reference, I’m in the UK so I read the UK editions; for some reason which I don’t understand, the US editions are called Vivian Apple at the End of the World and Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle. My research tells me they are actually the same books though.