The idea of a middle school novel in haiku grabbed by interest as soon as I saw it at the library. Brains For Lunch is, indeed, an interesting undertaking. I think there are moments of real wit and brilliance interspersed throughout the story.
As indicated by the title, the entire book is written in haiku. It revolves around Loeb, a Zombie middle-schooler who attends school with Lifers (humans), other Zombies and Chupacabras (blood-sucking creatures). He struggles with the typical geek/jock tension–from the “geek” perspective–although the characters of humans vs. nonhumans are anything but typical.
The wit is most evident in Loeb’s commentary on catching the eyeball of his friend after she rolls it or literally losing his jaw in an altercation with a brutish student. The underlying story is Loeb’s crush on a “Lifer.” This is a relationship that is unheard of at the school and he spends a lot of time denying this attraction to his friends when they point it out. In a refreshingly clever and non-preachy way the story encompasses racism and unkindness in a “Monster HIgh” type setting.
Loeb attempts to make a statement about his own abilities and individuality and about crossing what they call “the invisible line” between groups of people by writing his own haiku and performing it in a contest usually reserved for Lifers. His courage and passion resonate in his words–both those of his actual performance and those of his observations surrounding it.
The book is a fun combination of typical middle-school struggle with some zombie character and humor mixed in. The haikus, themselves, are not all particularly remarkable in and of themselves. There are, however, memorable and provoking selections:
The librarian gives Loeb a book of haiku saying
don’t always make good stories.
Look at these haiku.”
I love the reference to the humor of the 80’s movie Back to the Future:
Knock knock on my head
“Hello, McFly.” She’s laughing.
Duck away and scowl
Loeb’s deft sarcasm is delightfully evident in:
No wait. Not the bell
We’re a mobile Thriller dance
Shuffling out the door
One of my favorites is Loeb’s amazed reaction to his own poetry performance:
Paper in my hand
Sitting alone on the floor
Haiku really works
I originally was hoping to use this as a read-aloud with 3rd and 4th graders. I will not be using it as a read-aloud due to some of the language (not necessarily offensive, but authentically middle-school). The book uses words like “suck” and a form of “what the hell” as well as referring to giving each other the finger. I don’t think any of these things are objectionable in the context of the book. However, these expressions sometimes take on a different color when they are read aloud by an authority figure or trusted older reader. This particular selection could be used at home, in a small group of older high school students or as an independent read.