Cover of Varmints by Andy Hirsch. A graphic novel. A white boy and girl run out of an old timey Western saloon, with a lot of tough hombres behind them

About the Book

Title: Varmints
Published: 2016

Cover Story: Which Way Did He Go, George?
Drinking Buddy: You Must Be Thirteen to Drink Here
Testosterone Level: You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out
Talky Talk: Smile When You Say That
Bonus Factors: Wacky Races, Ticket to Ride
Bromance Status: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges

Cover Story: Which Way Did He Go, George?

Brian: I avoided reading this for a while, as the cover made me expect a cartoonish children’s tale. Boy was I wrong.

Sophie: It sucked me in, I thought it would be funny, though it only showed what happened at the very beginning of the book.

The Deal:

Preteen card shark Opie and her younger brother Ned travel the old West, searching for the crime boss known as Pa, who may actually be their real Pa. They face horse thieves, bickering Pinkerton guards, a silent, bear-riding giant, and the world’s first demolition derby.

Drinking Buddy: You Must Be Thirteen to Drink Here

Two pints of beer cheersing

Brian: At first, Opie (short for Calliope) and Ned seemed like your normal, irritating siblings: Opie is bossy, Ned is annoying. But as the book progressed, I realized that Ned was pretty funny, and Opie had quite the devious, underhanded streak. I’d buy ’em a drink (not like they card here), but I’d keep an eye on my wallet all the same.

Sophie: I liked Opie because she knew when to play the sweet little girl and when to play the sarcastic pre-teen. Ned was annoying. He tried to help but always messed it up. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Testosterone Level: You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out

Brian: This is less a graphic novel and more of a comic book, with only the barest nod to realism. I think this story would have done well in animated form, with a lot of slapstick jokes that seem a little forced in a single panel. But if you’re looking for a good ‘ol shoot ’em up Zane-Grey-meets-Yosemite-Sam adventure with plenty subtle jokes, this is an enjoyable read. You can almost ignore the dozens of humorous, off-camera deaths.

Sophie: There was more action toward the end, for example, the race and when they attempt to find Pa. The race was especially funny (see below).

Talky Talk: Smile When You Say That

Brian: This book was amazingly funny, and a lot of it was the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ variety. When Opie is doing the poor orphan routine, she whispers to the saloon piano player ‘something in a minor key.’ Ned names their donkey Magnus until he slips and falls underneath it. Then he starts calling it Maggie. I’d read the sequel.

Sophie: The characters were very likeable. Ned’s efforts to tame the donkey were pretty funny. You could tell Opie loved Ned, even though she was kind of strict with him sometimes. Boys would like this book because it’s fast-paced and has cowboys.

Bonus Factor (Brian): Wacky Races

Dick Dastardly from Wacky Racers

So Opie, Ned and Maggie enter a no-rules, winner-take-all race for the prize of a chance to meet with Pa. They’re competing against a cowgirl in a Roman style chariot, a mad scientist in an off-road locomotive, a Native American in a wolf-powered contraption, a man who’s bigger than his horse, the world’s first motorcycle thug, a female pirate captain in her wind-powered ship, and a guy who rides a buffalo.

The competition is narrated by two guys in a hot air balloon.

Bonus Factor (Sophie): Ticket to Ride

Inside a dining car of a train with nice finishes and red velvet seats

Opie and Ned take a train to the race, along with a couple of undercover police. They soon realize everyone else on the train is one of Pa’s gang members. While the crooks have a reunion, Opie and Ned realize there’s no one actually driving the train.

Bromance Status: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges

You’re exactly what a wild West comic should be: violent, lawless, and funny.

FTC full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but no gutrot whiskey or Confederate dollars.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.