Welcome back! So, this past year I was on a committee to chose the titles that would go on the state middle grades award list and I read Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi while on this committee. So let’s talk about what I read!
The apocalypse begins on the day Rabi, Miguel and Joe are practicing baseball near their town’s local meatpacking plant and nearly get knocked out by a really big stink. Little do they know the plant’s toxic cattle feed is turning cows into flesh-craving monsters…ZOMBIES!!! The boys decide to launch a stealth investigation into the plant’s dangerous practices, unknowingly discovering a greedy corporation’s plot to look the other way as tainted meat is sold to thousands all over the country. With no grownups left they can trust, Rabi and his friends will have to grab their bats to protect themselves (and a few of their enemies) if they want to stay alive…and maybe even save the world.
First of all, isn’t this cover completely perfect for middle school? I know what when my boy students see it, they’re going to eat it up! But let’s not let the lighthearted (and hilarious) cover fool us, because while Zombie Baseball Beatdown is full of baseball, zombies and boys being boys, the author has also packed in a conscious and some social issues he’d like us to consider.
One thing I liked about this book right off the bat was the diversity among the characters. Ravi, our main character is Indian American, his friend Miguel is Latino American and his friend Joe is just American. I’m a huge proponent of the We Need Diverse Books movement and it was refreshing to see these three very different boys and each of their different experiences with life in small town USA and how they relate to one another. I think my students will notice too (they’re always watching even when we think they’re not).
Although the plot line is full of boys being boys, chasing and killing zombies the author manages to pack in a social awareness into the story, which although I think a good thing, was a little heavy handed at times. Ravi and his friends are not just dealing with bullies, rude baseball coaches, and zombies, but they’re also facing racism, immigration issues, ethics in the meat packing industry. While each of these topics relate strongly to the story line, I wish Bacigalupi had been a little more creative in bringing them up. I did find myself rolling my eyes at times because these ethical plot points were pretty thinly veiled and I’d argue that his own opinion comes through strongly rather than letting the reader make their own decisions on things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he adds these themes to the story, I just think it could have been done in a less “preachy” way at times.
All that said regarding the socially conscious themes, I enjoyed Zombie Baseball Beatdown (although it’s not the type of book I’d normally choose for myself), and I feel strongly that my middle school students, mostly the boys, will enjoy this very different zombie/sci-fi read. I’m excited that many of them will see themselves in these diverse characters.