REVIEW: Going Bovine by Libba BraySunday, December 13, 2009 1:00
I’ve got to admit: I actually don’t like the Gemma Doyle books that much. I know, I’m a young adult fantasy lover with a thing for strong heroines. But in the end, Libba Bray left me somewhat cold with her bestselling trilogy. Going Bovine, on the other hand, is a cow of a different color. It’s an absurdist, magical realist, road trip adventure about a guy with a fatal illness. Bray takes something that should be depressing and turns it into a clever satire with plenty of laughs.
The narrator Cameron hits all of the right notes. He’s your basic, unambitious sixteen-year-old boy. It’s kind of sad that the blurbs give away that he’s been diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jacob’s disease (Mad Cow for humans), as it builds slowly in the novel, with Cameron having no clue what’s happening to him. What follows is the saddest part of the novel, as Cameron slowly loses more and more control of his body in the hospital.
Then he meets an angel named Dulcie who tells him to set out with his roommate, hypochondriac dwarf Gonzo, and find Dr. X before he destroys the world. It is a trip that will end up involving jazz, bland smoothies, a band even bigger than the Beatles, and the Norse god Baldur trapped in the form of a lawn gnome. (Baldur tends to steal the show. But hey, he is a god. Perhaps.) That is, if Cameron actually goes on a trip at all. Wherever he goes, the fire giants still manage to find him and cause him unimaginable pain.
Whenever I read a book with a premise like Going Bovine’s, I always wonder if the author will have the guts to kill off the main character in the end. And with Cameron, you really do wonder if Bray will have the guts to kill off such a great character. He begins the novel going nowhere, but by then end he’s clearly going somewhere. Deadlines do work wonders on high school students.
In addition to the character development, humor, and crazy adventure, there is (as mentioned) excellent satire of modern adolescence. Going Bovine will be particularly entertaining to anyone who dislikes MTV and its slate of reality programming. There’s also some fun stuff to learn. Perhaps Going Bovine will cause someone to become interested in physics. There are also physics Easter eggs. For instance, there is an important band known as the Copenhagen Interpretation. The Copenhagen Interpretation relates to quantum physics in some way. (I wasn’t paying attention when the TA mentioned it.)
I still don’t like the Gemma Doyle books, but now I feel like I’m a Bray fan. She pulls off dark humor with a heart, which is a feat for any author considering the distance between the two. And for those who can’t do without it, there’s also a bit of romance. Let’s not forget that Cameron is sixteen years old. Any truly great adventure has to involve a girl. If the girl is a punk angel . . . well, that just makes it even more awesome.
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.
Read an excerpt here.