Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: Going Bovine

Going Bovine
Libba Bray
2009; Delacorte (Random House); ISBN 978-0-385-73397-7 (hardcover)

Summary: Cameron doesn't want or expect much out of his life. He drifts through school and gets high with his stoner friends. He goes to work and to the local music shop. His family isn't close and he has a crush on a popular girl. But then, Cameron is told he's going to die, because he has the human form of mad cow disease. Now, he is full of questions: how can he die when he hasn't really lived? Is all the wisdom of the world to be found in the movie Star Fighter? And just what is real? Cameron sets off on a journey to discover the answers to these questions--and maybe find a cure for what's killing him.

Two Things to Know about Going Bovine

#1: We are all oddballs.

During his journey, Cameron meets a variety of people. There's Dulcie, the punk angel who starts Cameron on his quest. There's Gonzo, the hypochondriac dwarf who breaks out of the hospital with Cameron. There's teens who value happiness over anything else, physicists attempting to travel to alternative universes, and a blind jazz trumpeter. And there's also Balder, a yard gnome who's immortal. These unusual characters reflect that all of us have a part of ourselves that's a bit out of step with others. Cameron himself is a huge fan of a Portuguese ukulele player known as the Great Tremolo. It's not something he can share with just anyone, because it's a risk--but when Cameron does take that risk, he learns something about not just the other person, but himself as well.

#2: Reality is what you make of it.

Cameron's road trip is slowly unraveled as being in his head, a hallucination caused by the disease destroying his mind. Yet this doesn't mean it's not real. The experiences that Camera has are those that we all strive to gain: times with friends, falling in love, exploring new places. Without the time to do these things, Cameron's mind creates a way for him to do all these things and more, all the while his brain and body is weakening. In such a situation as Cameron's, would anyone deny the reality that he creates for himself?

A novel that is more than it appears to be, Going Bovine shows that life is full of adventures that must be lived. As the situations Cameron finds himself in grow increasingly absurd, the story is grounded by Cameron's honest attempt to fulfill his quest. Libba Bray knows when to add more humor or to pull back and create a tender or moving moment. Worlds different from Bray's previous works, pass this novel to road trip fans who have read An Abundance of Katherines. Or pair Going Bovine with I Am the Cheese for an insightful book discussion.

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