Paolo Bacigalupi has a lot of range. His debut novel, The Windup Girl was a lush ecological dystopia that plumbed odd depths of gender politics and colonialism. He followed it up with Ship Breaker, a young adult novel about class, peak oil, and corporate power, as lean and fast as Windup Girl was lavish and lush.
Now he's published Zombie Baseball Beatdown, a middle-grades novel that is unmistakably a Bacigalupi novel, but shows off a remarkable ability to change registers without losing any of his distinctive voice. Rabi is a young boy of east Indian descent, living in small-town America, where the main employer is a giant, industrial meat-packing plant whose workers include a number of undocumented workers. Among these are the parents of Miguel, one of Rabi's best friends. Rabi and Miguel's crew is completed with Joe, an all-American young man with abusive, distant parents. They pal around together, they have each others' backs, and they play on a little league team together.
Their lives are complicated by difficult racial and class questions that Bacigalupi masterfully works into the story without ever preaching. Besides, these are overshadowed by the growing certainty that something is awry at Milrow Meats, the local feedlot/slaughterhouse. Their sewage lagoon is especially stinky, Miguel's aunt and uncle have been deported after complaining of odd goings on, and then…
…The boys' awful baseball coach staggers out of the corn fields, moaning BRAIIINS and trying to devour them. After beating eight kinds of snot out of him with their baseball bats (Bacigalupi's zombies just don't die), the boys try to get the cops, but when they return they discover that all evidence of the zombie and his spattered guts have been expertly removed. Someone knows what has escaped from the feedlot, and whomever that is, they're taking great pains to keep it a secret.
Zombie Baseball Beatdown packs a surprising amount of stuff into a very fast and streamlined read. It's a great parable about friendship, independence, corporate corruption, regulatory incompetence, racism's power to destroy all it touches, and the legitimacy of different claims of "Americanness."
And, of course, it features some epic zombie baseball beatdowns.