Rabi is not much of a baseball player, but it’s even harder to concentrate on the ball when his mom’s marigold-yellow sari is dancing around in the bleachers. When his teammate, Sammy, starts to call him “red dot” after he strikes out, a fight seems inevitable, but Coach Cocoran blames Rabi, and eventually he leaves with his friends Miguel and Joe. However, when the boys arrive at Miguel’s house, they discover that his parents have been deported by ICE. Miguel is sure that it’s because they tried to blow the whistle on the illegal and unsafe practices going on at the local meat-packing plant, where Sammy’s father runs the show.
Thought this was just a fun zombie novel, eh? Somehow, Bacigalupi skillfully manages to layer a rollicking, slapstick middle-grade novel with serious issues, such as illegal immigration, corporate malfeasance, mad cow disease, racism, and the frightening and shameful state of food processing in the U.S. As a bonus, there are zombies, both human and bovine. The boys deal with very adult issues on their own, but the dialogue remains true to middle school. Although the author highlights the vulnerability of children without adults to protect them, our heroes show amazing resourcefulness while being just as goofy as boys that age usually are. No sex, romance, or foul language, but a pretty high yuck factor.
Truth to tell, I am not sure whether the target audience will understand or appreciate the heavier issues. I kept thinking of it as Fast Food Nation for kids, with zombies added in. The illegal immigration problem was illustrated entirely from the immigrant side, which is certainly a valid and important viewpoint, but there was no nuance at all. Notwithstanding all of these reservations, there is no doubt that middle grade readers will revel in the fast-paced zombie chase scenes and mooing, severed zombie cow heads. For 10 and up.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.