The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death

The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death by: Daniel Pinkwater
Book review by: Witney Seibold

Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death

Despite what is written in I Corinthians, then there are some things that, for reasons of nostalgia, re-visitation, or simply timelessness, we should never really rightfully put away. Case in point is a book that was one of my favorites when I was 12, and is still one of my favorites at 25. That book is The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death by the 400-pound cherub, Daniel Pinkwater. You may have heard Daniel Pinkwater’s deep, sonorous voice giving commentary on KCRW’s “All Things Considered.” I first ran across him in elementary school trips to the library, where the kindly, be-sweatered librarians would show us wacky little books like Lizard Music or The Hoboken Chicken Emergency. We would check them out, and maybe not finish them, but still fall in love with them. As a graduation present (from the 6th grade), my mom got me Snarkout. Once again, I never finished it, but what I did read (before my copy was lost), I loved like crazy, and tried to track in down for a decade. Rediscovering it felt like discovering the Rosetta stone.

The story: 14-year-old Walter Galt hates Genghis Khan High. He’s fat, awkward, and loves old movies (he named his parakeet Nosferatu) and Mozart, which pretty much makes him an outcast among his peers. Luckily, he befriends Winston Bongo, another fat kid, who has invented the sport of Snarking Out. Snarking Out involves sneaking out of the house while your parents sleep, donning a hat, and trekking by bus down to the Snark Theater, a little bohemian place that shows a different double-feature every 24 hours. Things like Rebel Without a Cause and Attack of the Mayan Mummy. Their late-night excursions bring them to a fellow Snarker, Bentley Saunders Harrison Matthews, a.k.a. Rat, and her rather unusual family. Rat’s family soon has the boys trekking through the late nights of the city, looking for a missing person, and doing deals with Osgood Sigerson, the world’s greatest detective, a performing chicken, a wrestling orangutan, and a giant thinking avocado.

The story is wacky and funny and fun. But wackiness aside, this book actually accurately captures a very important youth experience: the discovery of night life. All of Daniel Pinkwater’s book feature awkward kids, usually with inattentive (but not bad) parents, who, through their own curiosity and resourcefulness, discover grand and weird and fascinating things lurking out there in the world. Chili specials, libraries, late-night-double-features, handmade restaurants (don’t miss the Beanbender’s Beer Garden section), angry park-dwelling speechwriters, Ed ‘n’ Fred’s Red Hots. They don’t need anyone to introduce them. They find what they like. They are autonomous. That’s very comforting. Walter and Winston and Rat are fascinated with what goes on when everyone else goes to bed; most 14-year-olds are. Snarkout opens up the mind of a 14-year-old reader, and recaptures that excited state of mind for the adult. It’s a wonderful summer read for those balmy nights.

And it may just incite you to go wandering at night, get some cocoa, see a midnight show, and remember what it was to out past your bedtime.

Originally Published in 1982
Published by Farrar Strauss Giroux as part of 5 Novels by Daniel Pinkwater in 1997

Published in: on September 1, 2009 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

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