Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi
Zombie Baseball Beatdown, from Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi, is a smart, funny and well-written tale geared for middle-school aged readers that effortlessly does a lot more than just conjure up the zombie apocalypse.
Rabi is not the best batter on his Little League team (not even close). 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 (not even close), but because his dad runs the huge meatpacking plant, Milrow Meats, and is the richest man in Delbe, Iowa. This 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.
Still, it was shaping up to be a rather ordinary, uneventful summer. Their Little League team sucked, like usual. The days are hot and lazy, like usual. Sammy and his cronies are barely tolerable, as always. But then something happens. Something stinky. Literally. A smell wafts over the town – a horrible, gagging, infinitely worse-than-normal-even-for-a-meatpacking-plant smell that drives the workers out of the plant and sets off sirens inside; it even makes the evening news. Milrow claims it was an unfortunate circumstance brought on by mechanical work inadvertently opening “long enclosed systems”. The public was at no risk they assured the town, and by nightfall the smell had pretty much blown away.
But the workers are scared. They tell of a strangeness in the plant that has many of the workers spooked; something is happening at the plant, something that is secret, and wrong.
But now, I tell you, these Milrow men in their fine suits, and their scientists in their clean white lab coats, they are doing new things…. They are finding new drugs to make the meat taste better, to make it grow fat, and these drugs…. these things that they feed them…. they make the cows strange. The animals do not act as they should, and their meat does not smell as it should, and when you cut them, they do not bleed and die as they should….”
Yet no one will challenge management, because most of the workers desperately need the jobs; many of them are illegal immigrants from Mexico. And there is good reason for them to be afraid of speaking out. Miguel’s own father had been suddenly deported when he and a few others tried to smuggle out a video taken of internal Milrow operations to post on the internet.
But secrets have a way of leaking out in unexpected ways.
When Rabi, Miguel and their geeky teammate Joe find themselves on the lam after another sudden ICE sweep of Miguel’s neighborhood, they think it’s strange to find their Little League coach, Mr. Cocoran, wandering disoriented in a cornfield near Milrow’s holding pens. Coach Cocoran works in the R&D department at Milrow, but that’s no reason for him to be out in the corn – and acting strange, to boot. It’s not until Coach Cocoran attempts to eat their brains that the boys realize 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 a completely seamless fashion, he also folds in immediate and layered issues such as illegal immigration, corporate experimentation and 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. Best of all – it’s 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 gonna love it. YOU are gonna love it. I know I loved it!