Sunday, August 15, 2010

Review: Brains for Lunch

Holt, K. A. and Gahan Wilson. Brains For Lunch: A Zombie Novel in Haiku?!  New York: Neal Porter/Roaring Book, 2010. 87pp.


When I first learned about haiku in middle school, we read a few pithy poems about nature from the textbook, wrote one of our own, and called it a day. The entire “unit” was yawn-worthy, and I promptly forgot about the little form until I had to regurgitate later on.

K. A. Holt's novel, Brains For Lunch, takes haiku out of the hands of the literary elite and into the rotting grip of zombies. The story centers around Loeb, a zombie middle-schooler in a world where the undead, “lifers,” and chupacabras exist side-by-side.

“It's against the rules.”
“What's against the rules? Fighting?”
“No. Eating your peers.”

There is an “invisible” line between the “lifers” and the more unusual students, which leads to subtle hints of revolution and social change. All of this comes to head at the climax of the novel-- a poetry contest, where Loeb reads haiku.

“Lifers, Chupos, Zs
Melting pot of dopes and thugs
Or are we just kids?”

I don’t know if it’s a trend, but in my experience, novels in verse are usually in first-person and adopt a diary format. Brains for Lunch follows this same concept, but the poetry acts like a running commentary inside Loeb’s undead brain. This is the main vehicle for the novel's tangled romantic plot. Holt attempts to make it simple in the trailer for Brains for Lunch, but when is love in middle school ever anything but complex?

I can't clear my head
Even with all the holes
Fincher, Siohan, brains

This is my life, huh?
It's “The Catcher in the Fly”
Lame teen zombie angst

The haiku flow easily from one to the next, and zombies apparently talk in haiku-like rhythm anyway. The action sequences are a little hard to understand the first time through, and I personally wish it were a little longer. Still, it's a long length for young and/or reluctant readers. Last but not least, Gahan Wilson's illustrations are whimsically zombirific.

Over all, Brains for Lunch is a great resource for teachers for introducing haiku to middle schoolers. Not that those dry haikus in the textbook are entirely unreadable, but with something like Brains, students are more likely to hang onto the idea of haiku and maybe even write some snarky lines of their own.


MARTI FUERST (Rapid City, SD) is a BS graduate of Indiana State University's English Teaching program currently working on her MLIS at San Jose State University. Fuerst spends her days answering reference questions and her nights writing, knitting, and making faces at her dog. You can find her online on her blog or on Twitter under the moniker zealofzebra.

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