Zombie Baseball Beatdown was not the book I expected it to be. The cover art indicates silly, slapstick-y zombie zaniness. There is definitely humor sprinkled throughout, provided primarily by the sarcastic one-liners from Joe (a secondary character). The majority of the novel, however, centers on themes of corruption and immigration law.
Rabi, Miguel and Joe are members of the local baseball team. While practicing in a field near the town’s meat-packing plant (the biggest employer in the small town) they encounter their baseball coach–but he has become a zombie. The main plot centers around the three boys figuring out how to stop what they discover to be an imminent zombie invasion of the town. The fact that Miguel’s parents were deported the previous year and his family (as well as Miguel himself) live under the threat of deportation plays heavily into both Rabi’s and Miguel’s motivations and eventual choices.
Some of the zombie scenes bordered on overly graphic violence for me, personally. (I am a person who dislikes horror movies and gratuitous violence in general.) It is definitely a middle-grade novel due to this type of content. Zombie Baseball Beatdown was simultaneously more AND less than I expected. My 7th grade son, 6th grade daughter and I listened to the novel on audiobook in the car this summer. They both seemed to enjoy the story overall: they did NOT request that we choose something else or fall asleep and were able to comment on various aspects of the story where it related to zombie interaction.
I don’t know how much of the immigration and power/corruption themes an average 6th -8th grade reader will absorb or understand without guidance. The author skillfully interweaves the slower, more didactic/preachy moments about these topics with zombie interaction. This keeps a middle-grade reader engaged and more likely to finish the entire book.
All in all, Zombie Baseball Beatdown is a great independent reading choice from the 2015-16 Lovelace nominees, particularly for middle-grade boys. It also has the potential to be an effective teaching resource as a read-aloud selection in a middle-grade classroom when teamed with specific social studies/social justice or ethics curriculum.