My Rotten Life: Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie by David Lubar
Nathan's in 5th grade and he's not doing so hot. Not-so-athletic and not-so-popular, not the skinniest, not the best dresser, he seems to be stuck forever at the Second Bester table, which is, for the avid reader of fiction intended for fourth-grade boys, familiar territory indeed.
Well. At least Nathan's not sitting at the Table of the Doomed, which is where Abigail sits, with Snail Girl, Feardinand, and the rest of the socially hopeless. And Abigail, as it turns out, can help Nathan withstand the heartbreaks and disappointments of his not-so-hot 5th grade life. Pretty girls hurting his feelings just for fun. Getting picked last in gym. Ouch. Those first couple of chapters are righteously painful to read.
To make a long story short ("TOO LATE!" hollers the cast of Clue), Nathan is turned into a zombie, which is bad, but at least it means he can do a zillion chin-ups on field day and doesn't get nervous when he plays DS. Luckily for the reader, Nathan has no interest in eating brains. Unluckily, it takes him a while to realize that he's not digesting anything else either, and there's a particularly gross upchuck sequence that many 9 year olds will love very much. My kid felt compelled to read it out loud to me, even after I assured him I had already read it, and there was no need. "Really! Shut up, son! You are grossing me out AGAIN!"
I have to admit, I kept looking for the metaphor. We start out with a rather sensitive boy, who gets doused with a magic scientific potion and can subsequently no longer feel a thing. He begins to excel in areas that were previously difficult for him, but he finds that in some cases, these achievements are not particularly important. In the end, he must make a choice between regaining his humanity and saving a friend's life.
But... ehh, I shrug my shoulders. If there's a metaphor in there it's not exactly written in flaming letters across the sky. If there's some lesson to be learned, it is, thankfully, well hidden.
I mean, the book is (a little bit) about pain. I am glad that my sensitive boy, who also chokes at video games, read it, if only so that he can see he's not the only one. But... what did he get out of it? Did he learn that it's better to feel bad than it is to feel nothing? No, that wasn't exactly the message. Did he learn that being good at video games is overrated? No again, because even I cheered when Nathan showed those other meanie boys his newfound skills, and heck, I'm the whole reason my son sucks at video games.
No. What my son loved about this book, and what other kids will enjoy, are these things: likeable kids facing ridiculous problems; pratfalls, fart jokes, and parents who can't cook; well-written action and familiar cafeteria politics. And a pinkie finger floating in a cup of orange soda.