Book Review: Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi
It’s easy to dismiss zombie books, and I see it happen often. Yes, zombie books have – by definition – some type of zombie in them. But zombie books are most often a layered reading experience, there is subtext and nuance. And Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi is no different.
The apocalypse begins on a day like any other day. Rabi, Miguel and Joe are having baseball practice when a horrible smell, much worse than normal, explodes out of the town’s meatpacking plant. Soon, a zombie is trying to eat them. They are trying to let the town know but there are a lot of forces working against them, because some people want to keep the secret hidden, people with money and power. And if there is anything worse than a zombie, it is a person with money and power who will go to any length to protect their secrets.
Zombie Baseball Beatdown has zombies and baseball, that is true (and fun). But it is also a book about bullying, racism, corporate power, and factory farming. Bacigalupi manages to weave all these themes into the books without bogging it down and still entertaining readers. When I closed this book I was both entertained and so very grateful that an author had managed to present these important topics to younger readers in a way that may plant a seed and get them thinking about very relevant issues.
Rabi is Indian (real Indian, not Native American he informs his friends) and Miguel is Mexican-American. So our main cast of characters manages to embrace diversity and talk realistically about the issues facing them. Miguel has already lost some family members to deportation and it is a very realistic threat that hangs over him throughout the book. Bacigalupi manages to get kids thinking about diversity and racism without hitting them over the head with the issue. In comparison, I felt that Darren Shan was trying to accomplish the same things with Zom-B but he had a much more heavy-handed approach that often derailed the narrative. It helps that Rabi and Miguel are both characters that you end up routing for, they make some real sacrifices and difficult choices to help others, even those that have hurt them in the past.
Corporate Power and Corruption
In a time when we are seeing the effects of lobbyists and the full ramifications of corporations are people while our government is threatening to shut down because certain individuals are trying to force their will on others, it was very interesting to see the subtle discussion of corporate power and greed in ZBB. This is an important topic to introduce to young readers and get them thinking about if we want to make sure we are raising a new generation of critical thinkers who will stand up for Democracy and the least of these. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an anvil over the head type of discussion. There is simply a very well depicted character that is slick and slimy; he is able to use his powers of persuasion effectively for a while on our heroes until they begin to see the seedy underside of who he is and what he is doing. And then the gloves come off. This was a very fascinating and well written part of the story.
From GMOs to factory farming, there is a lot of discussion happening in our culture regarding how we produce, market and distribute our food. It’s not a topic that many young readers are thinking about, but it should be if we want to raise informed consumers. Gacigalupi manages to take the issues to an extreme – it is the factory farming practices that this plant uses that creates the zombies – in order to get you thinking about the issue. Infects by Sean Beaudoin does the same thing, but it is definitely for a more mature audience.
Zombie Baseball Beatdown is a fantastic read. It is entertaining for zombie fans, but manages to get to the meat of some current cultural issues in the subtext. See what I did there – meat. Get it? Oh, never mind. You can read it for fun or use it as a sounding board to start fleshing out some relevant and timely issues. Flesh out. Hehe. See, I did it again. As a bonus, there are zombie cows! This is a great book for all types of readers, including reluctant ones: There is sports, zombies, tense life or death situations (the zombie attack at the baseball game is epic). Sometimes funny, often icky, always fun, Zombie Baseball Beatdown manages to be two books in one without failing at either level. Definitely recommended.
Themes: Bullying, Activism, Racism, Corporate Power and Corruption, Food Industry. Published September 2013 by Little, Brown. ISBN: 978-0-316-22974-6.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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