Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Genre: Young Adult, Hallucinatory Fantasy
Rating: 3.42 out of 5 Stars
Summary: Cameron is a 16 year old high school student in Texas, overshadowed by his beautiful, perfect twin sister Jenna and ignored by his busy parents. He doesn’t find much joy in anything except getting high and collecting terrible records by a Portuguese musician who plays the recorder. But then weird things start to happen to him – he loses control of his body, he is attacked by a group of giant men made of fire, he sees his house burn up in smoke… But things really get bad when instead of discovering that magic and evil are real, he is diagnosed with a fatal disease. Once admitted to the hospital, he sets off on an incredibly detailed and fantastic hallucinatory adventure with a punk-rock angel, his new BFF – a dwarf named Gonzo, and a talking yard gnome who happens to be the Norse god Balder. Together they must save the world and find Cameron a cure before his health runs out.
First of all….how awful is it that Libba Bray broke both of her elbows?? OW. That sucks so bad. Good thing she has a PhD in Badass and is already tweeting and typing again.
With that out of the way…on to the book. Unfortunately I never made it all the way through the Gemma Doyle trilogy – not for lack of trying! I’m determined to do it eventually though. I bought Going Bovine because I’d heard excellent things about it – great reviews, tweets to Libba from people saying it’s the best book they ever read, and it has the same fancy shmancy Printz award that Looking for Alaska has on the cover.
From a completely objective stand point, I should say this book is really good. The writing is great and easy to read. It’s written in the first person, present tense that I used to think was weird, but now I’m incredibly used to and really enjoy in YA fiction. The language is good – written from Cameron’s point of view in an easy, colloquial, “the kids really talk like that” way. However…I really believe I am too jaded and currently too prone to depression to have fully enjoyed this book.
The urgent adventure really begins when Cameron is diagnosed and realizes that despite hating his life, hating his family, hating school, and hating most things…he really does not want to die. There are so many things he hasn’t done yet, places he hasn’t gone, girls he hasn’t had sex with and it’s unfair that he has to go when the popular, Jesus-loving jerks who rule the school don’t. Things take a wild turn when he wakes up one night in the hospital to find an angel standing at the foot of his bed – a pink haired angel in ripped fishnets and combat boots. She explains to him that it is his destiny to save the world – that a portal has opened allowing the “Fire Giants” and the “Wizard of Reckoning” into this dimension and that they will destroy the universe if the portal is not closed. Cameron has to accomplish this by finding Dr. X, who will also be able to cure his disease. And he also has to bring Gonzo with him – a dwarf he met at school one time who is sharing his hospital room. (Although he probably wasn’t *actually* sharing his hospital room…there’s a lot of that.) The angel’s name is Dulcie, alluding to Dulcinea of Don Quixote we assume since the book is brought up frequently before Cameron gets sick. And of course Don Quixote was another man off on a quest that wasn’t altogether real.
Cameron’s adventure takes him all over, to Mardi Gras where he meets a jazz legend with a magical horn to defeat the Wizard of Reckoning, to a crazy cult of happy people, to a douchy hick party where he picks up Balder and steals their drug money, and finally to Florida – to Spring Break and ultimately to Disney World.
It’s pretty obvious that at no time are we expected to believe that Cameron ever left the hospital on this crazy adventure. Without break, we are often brought back to Cameron seeing his parents beside his bed or hearing the nurse take his blood pressure or up his morphine drip. The book isn’t technically fantasy since it does all happen inside his head… Although…”…why on earth should that mean it is not real?” And that’s really the point. As Cameron’s brain slowly broke down – he lived the life he couldn’t before he got sick. He made a friend, went on a road trip, banged a chick, fell in love, went on a TV show, etc, etc, etc. It’s funny and interesting and you really never know what’s going to happen next.
I suppose that teenagers will read this book and think “Wow! I can do anything! Life is magical and I need to get out there and LIVE.” But I mean, really…no. You have to leave high school and either get a crappy job or suffer through college and THEN get a crappy job. Maybe you can squeeze in an epic roadtrip first if you happen to have rich parents who are willing to pay for it. But you’re not going to save the world from Fire Giants. I mean, sure there is a very small percentage of people who DO grow up and become famous actors or politicians or scientists or YA authors. But most people don’t. And is it really so bad to be diagnosed with a horrible disease? At least it mixes things up a little and will get you an excuse to not go to your crappy job.
Ok, I’m being faciteous. Obviously going to your crappy job is better than dying in a hospital. Though I imagine both are pretty boring and involve mental anguish, just one doesn’t involve needles and physical pain. So I guess really I should be going into how Cameron fading away in a hospital is a symbol for someone fading away at a crappy job where they never really get out and live anyway, despite technically being alive with the breathing and the blood pumping and all that. Maybe we just need a major shock to actually get us out of the cubicle or out from behind the cash register and do something.
Mostly I was incredibly disappointed with the ending. Very predictable and extremely silly and unrealistic. It just made me sigh and roll my eyes and say “Really? That’s how we’re wrapping this up?” But the disappointing ending is 3 pages out of 480, so I wouldn’t necessarily not read the book because of it.
-Creative, well developed characters
-Interesting flow and symbols throughout the story
-Felt there could have been more integration between the “real” and “not real”
-The last 3 pages
Overall it was a quick and interesting read, but maybe this is finally a YA book that I am just too old for. Yes, we should all get out there and live life to the fullest because we might be diagnosed with something horrible tomorrow….but we kind of also have to pay our bills. Unfortunately we can’t count on a tumor or heart attack. But I did enjoy the playful ride in the middle, the great characters, and the real heart in the story as Cameron chased after his windmills and his Dulcinea.