Thursday, February 2, 2012
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Summary: Can Cameron find what he’s looking for? All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school—and life in general—with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure—if he’s willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most.
Going Bovine has been on my radar for awhile. I read Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy before this one came out and decided that I was going to read everything Libba Bray wrote. Then this one came out. The whole mad cow disease/road trip with a gnome thing kind of cooled the drive to read it right away. It's not that I didn't want to read it, I just didn't need to read it that instant. Over two years later, the book club at the library was reading it, and I needed to as well if I didn't want to be subjected to spoilers at the hands of teenagers. It was totally worth the pressure to read it.
Going Bovine follows Cameron Smith, your fairly average slacker. Unpopular, C+ average student, ambivalent feelings towards his family, etc. Cameron glides by, smoking up and going to the local record store to escape his mundane, less-than-thrilling life. That is, until he gets the human equivalent of mad cow disease and finds out that he is not long for this world. A visit from a punk angel named Dulcie spurs a quest to find Dr. X--the person who can help save Cameron and the fate of the free world. Cameron is given two weeks worth of heath to go a-questing and soon enbarks on his adventure with a dwarf named Gonzo and a lawn gnome/former Viking warrior named Balder. It is up to the reader to decide whether Cameron's reality is the adventure of going after the mysterious Dr. X or the flashes he sees of himself in the hospital under the worried gazes of his parents.
This was one of the strangest, most awesome books I have read in a long time. I thought that I was going to have a problem with all the weird stuff that happened, but while I was reading it all sounded surprisingly normal. Libba Bray also managed to include some satirical social commentary during Cameron's adventure, something I find rare in young adult books. Also, Libba Bray's writing is straight up readable.
In the beginning of the story, Cameron is not particularly likable. It's hard to like someone that just does not care. Not about his family, not about school, not even about music, the one thing he appeared sort of interested in. All he does is smoke up in the school bathroom and basically take up space. He doesn't appear to have anything behind it, he's just not an active participant in life. It's not until after he is diagnosed that Cameron wakes up from the haze to actually do something. I'd even argue that it's after the escape from the happiness/snowglobe cult--he did embark on his journey and experience the Junior Webster New Orleans stop beforehand, but it's only after his experience with Library Girl that Cameron realizes that his happiness doesn't come from nothing--it comes from him going out and finding real reasons to remain alive.
My favorite part was definitely the dystopian tinged affair during Cameron's time with the happiness/snowglobe cult. Libba Bray managed to pack aspects of a dystoria with the idea that you can't just accept happiness and self esteem--it doesn't work like that. If things like that were to be constantly handed to you they would be empty and meaningless. All of this in one relatively small part of a book. Bam, Libba Bray, you did the damn thing.
The characters aside from Cameron were all unique and had endearing traits and eccentricities. Gonzo, Cameron's companion in the hospital and on the road trip, was an unapologetic mama's boy who worried about absolutely everything. Seeing him expand beyond his mother's clutches and find a significant other, a tattoo, and help save a friend in need was so awesome. Balder was the garden gnome/Viking warrior whose favorite activity was proving his immortality. His least favorite activity? Being dragged into photos with people at tourist stops or sporting ridiculous outfits. Dulcie isn't your average ethereal anel being--this pink haired punk angel gives Cameron his quest, and the one that proves to make him give a shit about life again.
Libba Bray's Going Bovine is a brilliantly weird read that everyone with an open mind should give a chance. Totally deserving of the Printz Medal.
Rating: 5 - fantastic, thought I don't know how often I'd reread it