Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalupi

I needed something fun and relatively quick to read last week. Fortunately, I had a copy of Paolo Bacigalupi‘s Zombie Baseball Beatdown [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] that I picked up at Book Expo of America.

This is a middle grade book about baseball and the U. S. meat industry and racism and bullying and comic books and of course, the zombie apocalypse. It’s the first book I’ve read from Bacigalupi, and it’s rather different from his other work. From the official description:

“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 … 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.”

The bad news is that while the violence is rather cartoonish, it would still give my son nightmares, so I won’t be reading this one to him. The good news is ZOMBIE COWS!

There’s actually a lot going on in this book. Bacigalupi takes some no-holds-barred shots at the meatpacking industry in particular. The description of the cows crammed into the pens, or the way they’re butchered, is far more disturbing than the zombie scenes. While I’m fairly certain our meat processing corporations haven’t actually unleashed the zombie apocalypse, the rest of the details ring nauseatingly true.

The protagonist, Rabindranath, is great. He’s a math geek, and I loved the way Bacigalupi described things through his eyes, the way he looks at the other players on his baseball team and sees their stats like power meters from a video game, their strengths and weaknesses all laid out for him.

Of the three heroes, Rabi, Joe, and Miguel, only one of the three is white. Without getting too preachy, Bacigalupi examines what it’s like to be a kid in America who doesn’t look “American.” They send Joe out at one point because, being the blond, blue-eyed kid, he has the superpower of being unnoticed and invisible. The fact that Miguel’s family is undocumented also comes up, both the consequences and the pain and fear Miguel carries every day.

In the end though, everything comes back to zombies. Kids with bats and balls chasing zombies, then turning around and running like hell from other zombies. Trying to get help against the zombies, only to run up against police officers who don’t take them seriously and lawyers more concerned with making the problem go away.

I’m curious what a younger reader would think of the story, how much they’d pick up on the commentary vs. how much they’d just get into the zombie-smackdown.

Oh – and I loved Bart the zombie-cow.

Anyone else read it yet? What did you think?