Review: Zombie Baseball Beatdown

Zombie-Baseball-Beatdown-by-Paolo-BacigalupiThis review originally posted at Guys Lit Wire.

Recently, I ordered several books for our school library, including this much-hyped middle grade novel about immigration reform. I mean, about conditions in the meat processing industry. No! It’s about corruption in the legal system based on the evils of money. Ack! What I am trying to say is, a novel about ZOMBIES. Yeah, that’s right! It’s about zombies, and baseball. Or so I am reminded, when I look at the cover….

Okay, I should be fair. This was actually a pretty darn good book for what it is, and even though I’m about to point out its weaknesses, it overall gets a thumbs-up from me. Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi is a grody, funny adventure story of the classic “groups of kids running around with curiously little parental supervision” sub-genre. It’s a buddy story, written in an accessible style, with plenty of the stuff that middle school boys like: slapstick, comic books, sports, video games, cars, oblivious adults, crazy heroics, poop. You know: the good stuff. I found myself smiling, compulsively turning pages, reading choice bits aloud, and rooting for the good guys. It was a fun read.

On the other hand, Zombie Baseball Beatdown is also a not-at-all veiled polemic against racism, the meat industry, American immigration policy, and big business. As my husband, who is an expert in such things, reminds me, zombies are always political metaphors. And of course, subtlety isn’t really in order when you’re writing middle grade literature. That said, ZBB really lays it on thick. My personal politics weren’t offended by the book, but it didn’t take much imagination to realize that plenty of readers would be completely turned off by the story’s message and end up walking away from what was otherwise a fun story. Obviously the use of fiction to promulgate ideology is nothing new (hello, pretty much everything you ever had to read for a high school English class) but a lighter hand with the vituperation might not have been uncalled-for here.

As an adult reader of a kid’s book, I was uncomfortable with the violent ideation. It bothered me that almost all of the protagonists’ (adult) nemeses conveniently got zombified, providing the kids with ample excuse to beat them up with baseball bats. I mean, I’m not so far gone that I can’t see how this would appeal to a middle schooler’s sense of justice; heck, some of these adults were so rotten before become zombies that I wanted to smack them myself. But there are a few violent (for a middle grade novel) moments where the kids get to deliver what ought to have been fatal beatings to adults in their lives, and they left me feeling a little disturbed. The inevitable zombie apocalypse scene blithely glosses over the fact that the kids are bludgeoning their erstwhile parents and neighbors.

Looking back on the novel, I realize that there are really no positive adults in this book, and ZBB fails the Bechdel Test big time. I’m not really counting that as a flaw here; it’s clearly a book intended for young guys, and the characters are pretty awesome. Our main character is a smart (but not caricature-smart) Indian-American boy who isn’t much of a baseball player but has a good head for stats. One of his friends is a courageous, big-hearted Mexican-American boy from a family of illegal immigrants, and the other is a Martin Riggs type with a rough home life. Together, the trio face enemies small, large, bovine, and undead. The ending is deliberately untidy, in such a way that felt exactly right to me and will frustrate the heck out of its target demographic.

Ultimately, this is a book that I’ll still sincerely recommend to kids who will either gloss over the politics or not mind them, and it’ll have a prominent place in our Halloween book display next October. It may make Cory Doctorow’s YA lit look subtle in comparison, but Zombie Baseball Beatdown is also a zombie-infested revenge fantasy filled with lots of cow poop — what’s not to love?

Book Drive

I’m taking a few minutes to sit, and it was either stare gloomily at Pinterest or come over here, so here I am.

I’ve just realized that I never made my work coffee this morning. The coffee in my mug, only half-consumed, was brewed at 6:30 AM. Yum. No wonder I’m tired and thirsty.

Man, I hurt.

Since having Henry, I’ve had pelvic pain — not severe enough that I’ve felt the need to do anything about it, but the muscles or tendons or whatever in there just aren’t as well-strung as they once were. I’m always “yoinking” my hips. Pushing something heavy — say, a cart full of books — goes straight to my pelvis, and because the hip bone is connected to the back bone, that then goes to my lower back, which goes to my stomach, and so basically I’m spending a fair amount of time wishing I could somehow ace-bandage my hip joint into the pelvic bone. Add to that all of the lugging-of-baby and weird positions we sit in while holding babies, and I’m pretty sure I’d make a chiropractor cackle with glee and call his accountant with good news.

So our school has a used book sale every year, which is this massive labor-intensive project, and has been head up for the past several years by a supermom volunteer who lets boxes of books take over her entire garage for the sale while they are sorted and stored. This year, I was encouraged to do the sale again despite the fact that supermom had moved out of state — and no other parents were jumping up and down to take her place. The easiest solution seemed to be for me to step into the volunteer coordinator’s role. I mean, how hard could it be to sort donated books as they come in?

And the answer is, not hard — but hard. I mean, my brain doesn’t falter under the weight of book sorting. But I’ve spent the better part of the day, every day for the last week, pushing around heavy (poorly-wheeled) carts full of often grimey books, bending over, picking them up, sorting them into cardboard boxes, and moving/stacking filled cardboard boxes. And if you’ve ever had the misfortune to help us move, or anyone else with a sizeable collection of books, you know exactly how much fun cardboard boxes full of books are. Nearly 2,200 books so far, and three more days worth coming — hopefully getting us close to my goal of 5,000 (about half of what we’ve had in the past, and not nearly as well sorted, but I’m trying to finish up a yearbook and be a librarian too, so it’ll be what it’ll be).

I don’t mean to complain. It’s kind of fun, and I took it on myself. But it is really exhausting, and really physically demanding, and I hurt.

It’s an interesting project. I open a bag or box of books and it’s a little window into the donor. Most of the kids are bringing in benign bags of outgrown children’s books, but the teachers are culling from their own collections. It’s fun to reach in and pull out a double fistful of gory thrillers, or enough romance novels to fill a bookshelf. Political books! Pedagogy books! Books that reveal religious beliefs, eating habits, family issues. I open a bag and discover a kindred spirit, or someone with whom I apparently disagree on just about everything.

(I want to take a second right now to say that I have no idea which person is connected to which book; if there were names on the boxes/bags, they’ve long since been removed by the time I get around to sorting.)

Who is this person? I wonder. We would have so much to talk about. Or: I wish I knew so I’d be sure never to bring up politics around them.

Then again, that’s a silly game to play, because maybe these books didn’t belong to any of my coworkers at all. They could be a spouse’s books, or books left over from a neighbor’s garage sale, or books they collected for the drive from all of their church friends.

And besides, they’re the books that the donor decided to get rid of — not her treasured personal library. What says more about a person: the books on her shelf, or the books in her donate pile?

By the way, I searched for a picture of cardboard boxes to illustrate this post, and found the picture below, and now I can’t wait for Henry to be big enough to do this because DUDE.


Weekly Reading Update – Week 8

SGF Reading

Reading Update: It is Tuesday, February 25, and as of today I have read 18 books toward my 2014 goal of 52.

In the past week, I read three books: Weekly Reading Week 8

Orange is the New Black is our book club selection for this month. It was a good read: thought-provoking and engaging without being especially taxing. I didn’t find it to be as hilarious as promised, but it was a pleasantly complex and forthright examination of a world I hope never to know any more personally than this. I liked the author and how she wrestled with and handled her identity as an educated, wealthy, privileged white woman in the prison community; my favorite part was the end (an addition to the paperback edition) where we learn what she did with her privilege to help those who helped her through her incarceration. My only complaint, if I can even call it that, is that I kept reaching for a plot arc that didn’t exist — and I blame Kerman. Her writing style kept teasing us with the next shoe to drop, except that it was a memoir and not a novel, and so things didn’t play out according to classical story structure. Not sure whether that’s fair to even mention, but there you have it.

This Star Won’t Go Out is the collected papers (journal, emails, etc.) of and about Esther Grace Earl, a Nerdfighter who didn’t inspire John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars but to whom the book was dedicated, for glaringly obvious reasons. So yeah, you’re basically stepping inside the mind and world of a young teenage girl who has by now died of cancer, and if you’re the sort of person who lets things like that get to you (like, ah-hem, me) then you’re going to spend a few hours pretending that you’re not crying. I’m not really 110% sure that this was a good book, but it was certainly a reflection of a good person, and I couldn’t put it down, so take that as you will. It’s certainly a loving and lasting legacy of a girl who never forgot to be awesome, and I’m proud of her and of her family and friends for making sure that her star doesn’t go out.

On a completely different note we have Zombie Baseball Beatdown, which I’ll be reviewing for GLW here in a few days, so stay tuned.

Currently Reading: I just finished ZBB last night and haven’t started anything new yet.

Looking Ahead: I’m currently carrying around These Broken Stars but I’m not exactly feeling inspired at this moment in time. The library just got in a box of graphic novels that are looking more my speed today, but that might be because I have a headache.


Tuesday! Reading!

SGF Reading

Reading Update: It is Tuesday, February 18, and as of today I have read 15 books toward my goal of 52. Yesterday was a holiday, and I didn’t think about doing my WAYRWWWAYR post, so here you go, one day late.

Since last Monday, I’ve read one baby-book-with-a-plot (I Love You, Every Little Bit) and one grown up book (Kiss the Dead).

762948 15810908

I’m not sure I could have picked two more different books to put side-by-side there. I Love You, Every Little Bit is a rhyming baby book with cute animal pictures. Each page contains a couplet describing the parent’s love for his/her baby. It’s very sweet.

Kiss the Dead is book #21 in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. I am left with several questions after reading this book. The first is, can they change the name of the series? Anita hasn’t really been a vampire hunter for several books. Second: Does the author even have an editor anymore, or does she just send her drafts directly to the printer? Entire swaths of plot, dialogue, and exposition are repeated, sometimes word-for-word, and characters sometimes change names mid-paragraph. Third: What is it about these books that I like so much? Because I have to confess that I love the Anita Blake books the way you love a favorite old sweatshirt or your most cherished comfort food. I can snuggle right into one even though I know how dreadful they are — in fact, I can even re-read them, again and again, despite their awfulness. The thing is, they used to be pretty awesome. But then the author decided to use the series as a vehicle for her multi-volume treatise on sexual exploration, and since then, all bets have been off. This most recent book had about twenty pages of the old action-based plot that originally made me fall for the series. Within the thin frame of that plot, there were conversations that seemed to stretch for hundreds of pages about the nature of romantic love and of policework, followed by back-to-back rough sex scenes relentlessly filling pretty much every page of the second half of the book. I just don’t even know any more. Of course, this brings me to question #4: When does book 22 come out in paperback? Because understand it or not, ashamed or not, I know I have to read it………

Currently Reading: I’m currently reading Orange is the New Black and need to wedge Zombie Baseball Beatdown in there soon.

Looking Ahead: Right now, all I really want to look at is the inside of my eyelids. Lots of books I’d like to read, I’m sure, but I’m too tired to think of any of them at this moment.

Monday! Reading!

SGF Reading

Reading Update: It is Monday, February 10. As of today, I’ve read thirteen books toward my goal of 52. Since last Monday, I’ve read Coaltown Jesus and The Night Circus. They were both pretty awesome in rather different ways.

17262298 Night Circus

Coaltown Jesus is a YA novel (novella? long short story?) told in verse. The protagonist is a young guy whose older brother recently died of a drug overdose, leaving him and his mom behind lurching in the wake. Jesus (yeah, that Jesus) suddenly appears in the boy’s room and helps him get his feet back underneath him through a combination of humor, love, gentle prodding, distraction, and infuriating non-answers. I think it would be a great book for anyone reeling from a loss, not to mention a terrific read for anyone interested in exploring God’s nature. Kind of a “What if God Was One Of Us” sort of situation, with fewer abuses of the subjunctive.

The Night Circus was sumptuous. It’s not often that a book gives me such a strong visual sense of its contents. I’m sure that the amount of detail in it worked better for some readers than others, but for me it struck the perfect balance: not so much that I was bogged down, but just enough that the circus and its inhabitants burst off the page into my imagination. I thought several times that this book would translate into a visually stunning movie (although I know the story would have to suffer) and it does appear that a movie is in early production. Definitely have to see that one. Thinking Moulin Rouge meets The Prestige with a bit of Big Fish thrown in.

Currently Reading: Over the weekend I picked up Not Your Ordinary Faerie Tale, a paranormal romance, at a thrift store for fifty cents. Turns out it is #5 in a series, which may be the reason I’m finding it to be pretty uninspiring. I was in the mood for something kind of mindless, though, and it seemed like a probable suspect. Sadly, it may be TOO mindless. Oh well. Sometimes grabbing random books at thrift stores works, and sometimes not so much!

Looking Ahead: Depending on how orchestra goes tonight, I may start Orange is the New Black, or I may discard Faerie Tale in favor of one of two other used books I picked up (Kiss the Dead — the most recent paperback in my most guilty reading addiction — and The Stepsister Scheme), or I may not get any reading done at all. At any rate, I’ve got only a couple of weeks to read Orange as well as Zombie Baseball Beatdown, so there’s that. And I’m still picking at Dangerous Animals, of course.

BTW: If you don’t know what my graphic at the top of this post is, then you have a fun little bit of education coming. You’re welcome.

It’s Monday. What what what are you reading?

SGF Reading

Reading Update: It is Monday, February 3. As of today, I’ve read 11 books toward my goal of 52. Feeling a little iffy about the fact that a lot of them are under 40 pages each. Since last Monday, I’ve read the following books:


Yep; that’s three picture books, a graphic novel, and a YA romance. Then again, neither The Day the Crayons Quit nor This Moose Belongs to Me are really written “just for kids” (Stuck might be), and good GRIEF but War Brothers was a hard thing to read.

Let it Snow is a trio of interconnected novellas about teens finding (or realizing) love in the midst of a blizzard that shuts down their community at Christmastime. I picked it up to read ages ago and only made it part of the way through the first bit, then accidentally read it in basically one sitting last Friday. I guess I just had to be in the right frame of mind, but it was very charming and a nice little diversion. Kind of like taking a field trip to the nicer parts of one’s own (idealized) adolescence. This book would actually make a rather nice movie, I think….

Currently Reading: I’m at the same place I was last week. The Night Circus, The Book of Deadly Animals, and the pretense of Far from the Tree.

Looking Ahead: Same books on the to-read pile. Knowing me, I’ll get distracted again. In the next few weeks, though, I HAVE to read Zombie Baseball Beatdown (for GLW) and Orange is the New Black (book club). Looking forward to both.