Stephanie Reviews “Going Bovine” by Libba Bray

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.

THE GOOD:
-Creative, well developed characters
-Interesting flow and symbols throughout the story

THE BAD:
-Predictable outcomes
-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.

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25 thoughts on “Stephanie Reviews “Going Bovine” by Libba Bray

  1. Was Gonzo the dwarf reminiscent of Gonzo journalism? Not in the first person driven narrative sort of way but in the drug fueled stream of conscious sort of way.

    I really think you and I need to start doing something we love for a living, because I sense we’re both getting incredibly depressed stuck in our dead end crappy jobs. Let’s open a bakery/bookstore/place that involves furry animals and happiness!

    Can I just say, this was your best post yet! I loved it. =) Also, I need to read this book too because it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for a while now. I was just thrown off by the male narrator.

    • You don’t like male narrators? What up with that?

      You guys really should open a bookstore/bakery (like, a bookstore with a bakery in it…) or you should find some kind of schtick to make people interested in travelling there to see it (like cute animals, for example). I’ve also heard a theory, which has thusfar not played out, but you never know, that since all of the big bookstore giants like Barnes and Noble and Borders are going bankrupt and closing locations, independent bookstores have a better shot at being successful.

      Also, then we’ll always have somewhere to sell our own books, no matter how crappy they are. JUST SAYIN’.

      • I don’t necessarily not like them, they’re just difficult to connect to them. Because they have penises, obviously. Or it’s probably because I’m more used to reading stories with female narrators.

        RU Baked. Bookstore and Bakery. Except it would suck if it was at Rutgers. Lol. I was thinking this SAME thing, about major retailers closing and allowing independent businesses to take America over again. Pokey and I just need to find some investors who are willing to support us and give us lots of money.

        I highly doubt you could create a crappy book. The only reason to create a crappy one is so you can steal all of Stephenie Meyer’s fans and become extremely rich.

        • THAT’S THE PLAN.

          I legit think you guys should look into this, even just very informally to see if it could be possible some day. I happen to know this lady who is a small business owner, so she knows all about starting a business and getting loans and stuff.

          (But if I take all of Stephenie’s fans I’ll just buy you guys a store.)

    • As far as the Gonzo journalism – eh, not really. Maybe a little in the beginning when he’s first starting to lose his mind and things are getting crazy. But overall the adventure is extremely lucid and despite the talking yard gnome, it kind of all “seems” normal at the time.

      And I’m all for a bakery/book store/kitten emporium. But I have to go to work today so it’s going to be hard to visualize or plan any happiness 😛

      Definitely don’t be thrown off by a male narrator!

      • Wait, wait, you don’t normally see talking yard gnomes? Damn… I thought that was the only normal part of my life.

        I like the kitten emporium addition. People can read books, eat baked goods, and simultaneously play with kittens! It’s perfection. I feel you. I’ve been job hunting for I think 8 months now and still have not even gotten a call for an interview. And that makes going to work SO MUCH HARDER!

        I’ll try harder to think like a man. Although I definitely preferred Deryn’s point of view to Alek’s in “Leviathan”.

        • I also prefer Deryn, but probably because she’s super awesome and says things like “Barking spiders!” Also, Alek has to learn how to not be an elitist jerk before he can be more interesting, lol.

          I definitely don’t mind a male narrator normally – helloooo Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. Also I like the guy’s point of view because I often find girls and their actions as ridiculous as guys do. 😛

          • My paycheck hits my account tomorrow and I plan to buy “Behemoth” then! Am so excited to see how this continues. Or, after I see the boffin tomorrow I may go peruse it at the bookstore. (Can we please talk like this all the time.)

            I honestly think John Green’s books were the first time I can remember thinking, “What the hell, a male narrator, well this is a strange point of view to get adjusted to”.

  2. Was this book depressing? Or is it only depressing if you see through the impossibility of it and the silly ending? I’m looking for something more fun to read right now, I haven’t been able to finish “The Magicians” yet because it’s these recent magic school graduates being angsty and hip in New York City…

    • I think it was probably meant to be some sort of inspirational/uplifting sorta…but I found it depressing personally.

  3. These things, about how fiction and the entertainment world is convinced that the human life is precious and the world is a wondrous place full-to-bursting with amazing adventures and experiences and people. And that teens/young adults/disillusioned hedge fund managers/retirees looking at their bucket list should throw caution to the wind and live out their dreams…!

    … I have also thought of them before, and am regularly angry about the realities of life. Like the ones brought up in this review. Really does suck… And this coming from somebody who doesn’t even have a crappy job to go to yet and finds that somehow /even more/ depressing than going to a crappy job.

    BUT! Having said all this… I mean… It’s a blossoming world of technology out there. If there was ever a time that as person could both “LIVE!” in all capitals and an exclamation point and “work” at the same time, it’s definitely this one… Blogs and Writing Apps and what not. Or you could just go on a crazy drug-induced hallucination adventure. Which seems just as good if not better.

    Of course, there’s a chance you could die afterwards. But at least, as it was said, you wouldn’t need to go to that crappy job anymore, right?

    So in closing: Beat poops on the concept of a crappy job.

    • Okay, maybe this is just because I’m blessed with boundless optimism, but I don’t see why “throwing caution to the wind” is such an IMPOSSIBLE option to you guys. It’s not impossible, it’s just that you have to sacrifice all stability to do it. Plenty of people our age in the past, and in fact still do, just quit their jobs and travel (I’m reading “On the Road” for school right now, so…) and do whatever. And you might end up homeless. Which is why it’s probably better just to get a job and stick it out, so you have money to feed yourself and occasionally do fun things. I’m just saying that a crazy road trip isn’t some kind of physical impossibility. You can do whatever the fuck you want. Life is short. If you wanna do it, then fuckin’ do it.

      Also, I would say that part of the reason so much fiction like this exists is not so much instructing you to ditch your life and do something crazy, but so you can experience ditching your life and doing something crazy without actually having to. It can be fun to imagine doing it, even if you never will.

      • It’s not an impossible option, but simply an implausible one. Those of us who think and might be inclined to agree with the rather pessimistic ideals described by Stephanie and myself might just be unwilling to risk the permanent loss of, at least, our regular creature comforts, and at most, our lives, for the sake of fulfilling this dream and perhaps happiness. And I’ve come to terms with that fact, but can still be displeased with the reality of it.

        In a way though, it makes us quite the optimists as well. We continue toiling with our hated and perhaps ultimately empty careers, hoping that one day soon we’ll be able to walk out and drift a bit, see the world and enjoy its wonders. I think if anybody were to find out that their life never changed until the day they died, they’d probably stop living immediately. And not in a metaphorical way either… Like… Seriously. Just die. But it’s that knowledge that it still /could/ change that keeps things chugging along.

        … Plus, y’know. All the regular junk. Friends, family, steak and dumplings and all that good jazz.

        All my notions of drifting and wanderlust I pull from the Kino’s Journey light novels though… So they’re more than unrealistic. But, it is almost solely responsible for my dreams of wanderlust so I can’t help but be effected by it anyways.

        Also: On the Road! How is that? I’ve always been interested in it but never got around to finding it anywhere.

        Also v2: I usually take fiction in two ways… While I’m reading it, I enjoy experiencing the tales of the people described on the pages within my own mind, but when I finish and have a chance to reflect, I wish there was an opportunity to live out some sort of adventure first-hand. It is both the solution and problem in a nice little package.

  4. I think that’s a really good way to think about it, and I don’t disagree. It’s definitely an implausible option. But I just mean, it’s an OPTION. You always have it, even if you never actually pursue it. Which is, as you said, a type of optimism in its own way. I’ve thought about dropping out of school as much as anyone, but obviously never have and I know I won’t, for all the reasons you listed above. I think staying is both easier and not easier.

    I’ve only just started On the Road, but I’ll keep you posted (or possibly do a blog post on it). It’s great so far (read: two pages in) but I get the feeling I’m going to hate it. Today in class we talked a lot about wanderlust and doing extreme things in your life, etc, so it all worked out to be super relevant to this discussion! Although the conclusion in class was basically: there’s too many murderers to go hitchhiking now, but you could always go mountain climbing. Anyway, I’ll let you know how the book goes. =D

    I know exactly what you mean about fiction being the problem and the solution. I think it’s particularly difficult considering the escapist-type stuff all of us like to read. Would we have been better off never reading it in the first place?

    • Yeah…my life is pretty much never going to be complete because I KNOW I’m never going to find Narnia in any fucking closet I look in. Dammit. I’ll also never be sent on an epic mission to save the world or kill a zombie or…anything at all remotely interesting. Real life is boring and now that I’ve read all this awesome fiction, it seems even MORE boring.

      And I agree with Kenny Wong on the implausibility thing. I mean, I may be miserable, but at least I’m showered, eating Wawa, and sitting on a comfy bed in a heated house and miserable. If I was dirty, hungry, and had no home and miserable? Well, that would be the end of the line for me. I don’t find the idea of dropping everything and going “somewhere” appealing. You need a shit ton of money to do anything in this world. You can’t just be like “Let me put all my shit in a covered wagon and head west and see what happens.” What happens is you will not be able to pay your rent there either.

      What is it that Margo says in Paper Towns? Once she left, it was the easiest thing in the world? You have to have the strength to leave in the first place though…

      • Could always go to cons. I mean… They’re not Narnia or anything that extreme, but they’re amusing in their own right. I always feel some relief to the mundanity of life after attending one.

        … Or you could even get into LARPing… but I think that’s too nerdy even for me.

      • And we are never going to have magical element bending powers that make life more interesting and dangerous and just more ALIVE than our boring world of no magic and salaried positions in jobs that mean nothing to what really matters.

        These stories have ruined us and saved us. It may have been easier if we had never read any of it, but I can’t imagine life without them.

  5. Well, personally I’m cool if I never find Narnia because everyone there is really, really, really British, the cultures and geography are kind of unclear, and if you do anything wrong Jesus personally comes and lectures you about it.

    But yeah. Dammit.

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