The No-Brainer's Guide to Decomposition

The No-Brainer's Guide to Decomposition
Age Range
Release Date
September 24, 2024
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No one has ever called Frani Gonzalez squeamish. Seriously, whether it’s guts (no big deal), bugs (move aside, she’s got this), or anything else that you might find at the Central Texas Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, to her and her dad, the university’s body farm is just home.

Having bodies buried in her backyard doesn’t exactly make Frani the most popular kid in school, and the imaginary spider that lives in a web in her brain isn’t helping either. Arañita’s always to blame for the distracted thoughts weaving through Frani’s mind. But when a hand reaches out of the ground and grabs her ankle, Frani realizes that she’s got bigger problems.

Not everything is as it seems at the body farm, and now Frani must help the teenage zombie that crawled out of the dirt…before he gets too hungry. But as more and more zombies begin to appear—and they seem to get less and less friendly—can Frani embrace the true nature of her brain and count on new friendships to solve the body farm's mystery before it's overrun with the undead? 

Editor review

1 review
PUDs and DUDs
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What worked:
The grossness factor of the story will appeal to many middle-grade readers although it’s not for the general population. You can expect flaky flesh falling off bodies with fingers, arms, and teeth dropping at every turn. Frani’s father studies the decomposition of dead bodies so there are over two hundred corpses buried in the backyard of their home at the university. One of his assistants is studying the effect different clothing materials have on decomposition while another is studying the bugs that feed on the dead flesh. Many young readers like to read creepy stories so this book is up their alley, minus the fear factor.
A medical term is not presented to describe the “spider” inside Frani’s head but her mind tends to quickly get distracted by a chain of thoughts. It makes it difficult for her to stay focused and complete tasks and it’s sometimes challenging to answer questions. She’ll utter random words that seem to make no sense to others but her brain follows a path of connected ideas to come up with them. Frani is well aware of the “spider” and the problems it creates and her older sister doesn’t spare negative, hurtful comments. The combination of Frani’s anger and frustration at her brain and her sister’s cruel words results in Frani’s low self-esteem. Middle-graders often fear looking stupid in front of their peers so they’ll be able to make connections to Frani’s character.
The first living corpse Frani discovers becomes a supporting character she calls Mateo. She enlists the help of a new friend named Benji and he calls reanimated bodies DUDs, Definitely Undead Dudes. Frani and Benji’s first order of business is to figure out Mateo’s real identity since the DUD doesn’t have any specific memories of being alive. He comes across as a helpless victim as decomposition leads to bits of his body falling off. Mateo displays kindness toward his new friends and helps them with trying to locate and recapture the other DUDs. Readers will feel empathy toward Mateo and the others as Frani’s father tries to figure out a humane way to allow the DUDs to rest in peace.
What didn’t work as well:
Frani’s wandering thoughts make the first few chapters challenging to read. They set the stage for her major internal struggles but it’s hard to follow her thinking. However, the author is able to describe it less as the plot moves on so it’s easier to focus on the story itself.
The final verdict:
While this is a book about zombies, Mateo has the most emotional story that will capture reader’s minds and hearts. The author blends humor, nastiness, action, and mystery to create a very entertaining tale. Overall, the book won’t interest everyone but I recommend you give it a shot.
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