Going Bovine by Libba Bray. Random House. September 2009. Reviewed from ARC supplied by publisher.
The Plot: Sixteen year old Cameron Smith is just another slacker at his Texas high school. Until he gets diagnosed with Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (aka mad cow disease), starts seeing angels, and ends up on a road trip to DisneyWorld with a dwarf, a yard gnome, and an angel.
The Good: This is so different from Libba Bray's other books -- I love when an author can do multiple things well. I don't see anything in Cameron's voice that reminds me of Gemma Doyle; the world in Going Bovine so different -- it's a joy to discover just how multi-talented Bray is, because all you can think is "Holy Hannah, what is she going to do next?"
There's some things I think I don't like in books. Then, what happens, is a book comes along that has the things I don't like and I realize it's not that I don't like something -- I don't like it when it isn't done well. Why, I wondered, do I want to go on a road trip with Cameron? And a dwarf? And yard gnome? This is just getting ridiculous. I don't do ridiculous.
But then, I remember, I do. I love The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Thursday Next delights me. Like Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde, Bray throws out casual one-liners that are just fantastic; the book is so full of wry observances and over-the-top humor that I'm sure I missed half of what was there. This book demands a reread.
And a reread is needed not just for the humor; but also for the layered storytelling. Flat out the back of the book says, "Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit." If I told you the movies this reminded me of, I'd be giving spoilers. Which is why suddenly, instead of writing a long review, I'm coming up short. Because the joy of all 480 pages is not just Cameron's discoveries, but the reader's discoveries. And I'm not going to take that away from you.
Bray addresses serious questions -- about life, and belief, and what it means to live. Why does Cameron need the threat of death to wake him from his life? Do we live to our fullest? Much like Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal and Dogma, something that may be viewed as blasphemous actually asks the most serious of questions.
Hey, did I mention there are also Norse gods? Physics? Inuit Rock Stars? Music? New Orleans? All-U-Can-Eat Freedom Pancake Towers? Bowling? Smoothies?
Not only is this going on my favorite books list for this year; but I predict this being on starred/best of year lists. Also, this needs to be crossmarketed to adults, who will eat it up.
My Twitter Review
Jen Hubert's Reading Rants review (which is brilliant)
© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy