- Craig Graziano
Zombie Baseball Beatdown appears to have been written exclusively to combine the undead with baseball bats—in the most splattery combination possible. This does not make Paolo Bacigalupi's first book for middle grade readers bad. In fact, he manages to inject some pretty great commentary into this wild zombie romp.
Rabi loves America's favorite pastime, but he is not a great hitter. He is more of a statistics guy, knowing whom to put where in the line-up so his team can get on base and score runs. Unfortunately his coach Mr. Cocoran won't listen to him. Rabi often finds himself getting the last out in the game, so most of the team don't like him. Sammy, a popular player, nastily calls him "red dot" due to his Indian heritage. Rabi's only friends are Miguel and Joe who stick up for him at all times.
Miguel's family works at the local meatpacking plant. Almost everyone in town works at the plant, and Sammy's dad runs it. The huge facility supplies beef to seven different states, and they do anything they can to make a profit. Normally, it smells bad enough outside the plant, what with all the manure and different chemicals coming out of the smokestacks.
Lately there is a new stench emerging from the plant, and it definitely ain't pretty. Soon Rabi runs into his coach who is wearing his standard meatpacking uniform. But there's something non-standard going on with the coach. Mr. Cocoran stumbles around, his eyes are bright white, and he's moaning for brains.
The three friends witness a mass conspiracy hiding the strange happenings around town. The police won't believe what they have seen. Some hotshot corporate lawyer tries to keep them quiet, threatening to deport Miguel. But this trio will not be stopped. They have their baseball bats and are ready to fight. Of course, zombie humans are one thing, but half-ton zombie cows? That's a whole new ball game.
Bacigalupi uses the zombie theme to talk about our society, particularly how we get our food and what it means to truly be an American. He has done this sort of commentary particularly well before in his science fiction books for older teens and adults, asking how we can correct civilization's problems before they destroy us.
It was great to see an action-oriented book where the two main heroes were not white. Rabi and Miguel get teased for their ethnic backgrounds, but they are clever and courageous in their fight against the bullies and the brain-eaters. This is a funny read that might get middle schoolers thinking about bigger issues while enjoying the sick splatter of those baseball bats.