Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalupi
I wonder what motivated Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi to write a monster book geared at middle school kids. Just what would have possessed the man who wrote the harrowing and taunt dystopian novel The Windup Girl to pen a smart aleck-y, gory, fast moving story for a demographic that probably would be the least likely to sit still and read it? Whatever the reason, thank heavens he did because Zombie Baseball Beatdown is a smart, funny, entertaining tale that effortlessly does a whole lot more than just conjure up the zombie apocalypse.
Rabi is not the best player on his Little League team; he’s more a numbers guy. His friend Miguel is the slugger of the bunch. But the star of the team is Sammy Riggoni, not because he’s the best player, but because his dad runs the huge meatpacking plant, Milrow Meats, and is the richest man in Delbe, Iowa. Which also means that Sammy is a jerk and a bully, especially to Rabi and Miguel and any other player on the team whose parents weren’t born in the United States, especially if their families are menial labor at the plant his dad manages.
Still, it is shaping up to be a rather ordinary, uneventful summer. The team sucks, like usual. The days are hot and lazy, like usual. Sammy and his cronies are barely tolerable, as always. But then something happens. A smell wafts over the town – a horrible, gagging, worse-than-normal-even-for-a-meatpacking-plant smell that drives the workers out of the plant and makes the evening news. Milrow claims that it was an unfortunate circumstance brought on by maintenance work and that the public is not at risk. By nightfall the smell had pretty much blown away…but the workers at the plant are spooked, scared. Something is happening at the plant, something that is secret, and wrong.
Yet no one will challenge the management at Milrow, because most of the workers desperately need their jobs; many of them are illegal immigrants from Mexico. Once before, a group of workers had previously publicized inhumane treatment at the plant by smuggling out a video taken of internal Milrow operations and posting it on the internet, but a flash raid by ICE had all of those involved with the plot suddenly fired and/or deported, leaving in their wake a now compliant workforce.
But secrets tend to leak out in ways that are not successfully anticipated – or in any way expected.
So when Rabi, Miguel and their teammate Joe find themselves on the lam after another sudden ICE sweep of Miguel’s neighborhood meant to quell the gossip after the great smell-out, they think it’s strange to find their Little League coach, Mr. Cocoran (who works in Milrow’s R&D department), wandering and disoriented in the corn fields near the plant’s holding pens. It’s not until Coach Cocoran attempts to eat their brains that the boys realize that the summer is not going to be quite so boring after all…
A rollicking, smart ass, fast moving zombie story with twists and turns that are frightening in how believable they are – one would think that’s enough, eh? But not for author Bacigalupi. In completely seamless fashion, he folds in such immediate and layered issues as illegal immigration, corporate experimentation and a lack of regulative oversight, crop manipulation, genetic mutation (of crops and livestock), poverty as it affects the family, prejudice, bullying… but it all works. All these things are interrelated in real life and in Bacipalupi’s story. And best of all – its entertaining. And full of morality, the kind that kids recognize, that they are drawn to because it makes sense. Teamwork. Friendship. Integrity.
It’s all there, and it’s funny and scary and gory to boot.
Kids are going to love it – I loved it! And you will, too.
— Sharon Browning