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‘The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death’ is the childhood classic not enough people have read

Like many Gen Z-ers, I grew up on books like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, plus classics by Roald Dahl and Douglas Adams. Most of the time, when I compare childhood favorite books with friends, my conversation partner shares at least one of my old favorites. But there’s one author who many never seem to have read, and that’s Daniel Pinkwater. Pinkwater’s books were an integral part of my childhood, from his most famous work, “Lizard Music,” to the mildly problematic “Fat Men from Space,” to “The Hoboken Chicken Emergency.” Today, I come to extol the virtues of my all-time favorite Pinkwater book, “The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death.”

“The Snarkout Boys” follows the story of two dorky guys, Walter Galt and Winston Bongo, who “Snark out” every night. Snarking out means that they sneak out of their homes in the dead of night to go watch a movie at the Snark Theater (inspired by Chicago’s now-demolished Clark Theater). Walter and Winston have many things in common, including the terrible school they go to (Genghis Khan High School) and families who can’t cook. As a result, much of the book consists of Walter and Winston seeking educational experiences elsewhere and discovering the joys of good food.

Soon, however, the book takes a turn. The Snarkout boys discover that they are not the only Snarkers in town. Nope, it’s a whole subculture that they’ve fallen into, and they quickly fall in with a girl called Rat and her Uncle Flipping Hades Terwilliger. Rat becomes their close friend, and shows them a new side of the city. When Uncle Flipping mysteriously disappears (he has a habit of doing that) our main trio must go and find him. On the way, they discover that Winston’s uncle, a star wrestler known as the Mighty Gorilla, is involved with a crime-fighting duo named Osgood Siegerson and Dr. Ormand Sacker.

Siegerson and Sacker are some of my favorite characters in the book. They are like a budget Holmes and Watson (complete with painted-on sideburns). Their mission? Save the world from arch-criminal Wallace Nussbaum—known for torture strategies like boiling people in cheese fondue—who wants to replace all realtors with space aliens using hypnotized orangutans. The key to his plan is the destruction of the Alligatron, a super-intelligent avocado computer invented by Uncle Flipping.

In case you can’t tell from the ridiculous plot, “The Snarkout Boys” is an absolutely hilarious book. It’s laugh out loud funny at any age. I want to shout out a scene where Walter witnesses three public speeches happening at once in Blueberry Park (a park where anyone can make a speech about anything at any time). The three speeches are a plea for vegetarianism, a call to free Kenya from the British (despite the fact that it already has been), and a semi-coherent breakdown about the devil. Later, Walter delivers his own speech about how much his school sucks. These scenes are a masterclass in comedic writing. Another beautifully hilarious scene is the final battle in the Snark Theater, which can only be described as a fever dream. 

What makes “The Snarkout Boys” so brilliant is its comedic timing along with its clear love of misfits and counterculture. Every character you meet (other than Walter, who serves as the narrator) is larger than life. The book takes us to all the hidden parts of the city, from Big Nose’s Cafeteria on Lower North Aufzoo Street to Beanbenders Beer Garden to, of course, the Snark Theater itself. There’s a real warmth and love contained within the book for people who just don’t quite fit and are discovering their people and their place. Or, maybe, it’s the discovery that normal people are just boring anyway. These themes are great to read as a kid, and they are still fun to read now.

“The Snarkout Boys” also features some classic Pinkwater tropes, like the Chicken Man, who actually plays a fairly major role in this book. We also get Pinkwater’s excellent descriptions of food, and his standout humor and wit that made me love his books as a kid.

Now, if you’re reading this review and wondering if it’s even worth reading a book aimed at middle grade readers, listen to me very closely. Yes it is. “The Snarkout Boys” is hilarious no matter your age. If you’re looking for a camp, madcap comedy adventure, look no further. Also, please read this book. I need someone to discuss it with.

If you like “The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death,” then you can get even more excited, because there is a sequel—“The Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror.” This book involves a werewolf, foot long borglenuskis, and “Howling Frog – Books of the Weird.” How are those things connected? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. Rest assured that it is as hilarious as the first book, and the plot is even more fun now that you don’t need to keep up with all the exposition.

If you haven’t read any Daniel Pinkwater, “The Snarkout Boys” is, in my opinion, his best work and where one ought to start. The books are a brilliant ride from start to finish, with memorable characters, laugh-out-loud comedy, a diabolical villain, orangutans, James Dean, avocados, baked potatoes, werewolves and a whole lot of classic movies.

Happy reading, and don’t let an orangutan get you by the foot.

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