Monday, July 5, 2010
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
SUMMARY: Slacker Cameron simply wants to continue coasting through high school and life. But Cameron’s low-expectation existence is rudely interrupted by some unpleasant news: he has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, also known as Mad Cow’s disease. So he’s going to die. Soon. Without losing his virginity or even graduating from high school. This, in Cameron’s opinion, sucks. A lot. But just as it seems like he’s going to be spending the rest of his days in the hospital turning into a sponge-brain, Cameron is given a second chance at living by the appearance of Dulcie, a kooky angel in combat boots with a mission for Cameron—a mission that could save both the world and his life. So Cameron sets out on the road trip to end all road trips in the company of a paranoid, video game obsessed dwarf, a Norse god trapped as a garden gnome, and the frustrating but fascinating Dulcie. Along the way Cameron learns to like jazz, gains real friends, falls in love, travels between dimensions, battles a mad scientist, frees the snow globes, saves the world, and finally has sex. For the first time in his life, Cameron is truly alive even as the reality of his own mortality seems to coming ever closer.
ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: This novel had a lot of hype; a multitude of people wrote rave reviews and then there’s that whole Printz Award thing. Also, I had been intrigued by the premise since I first heard about it on http://www.readingrants.org/ a while ago. So I was pretty excited to finally get my hooves on a copy of Going Bovine. Then I actually read it and it more than lived up to the hype. Nothing could have prepared me for how unmistakably brilliant this quirky, hilarious, touching, and wonderful novel is.
Firstly, I fell in love with Cameron, the hilariously honest and charmingly realistic narrator. From the vocabulary to the subject matter, Cameron’s narration reads as though it is straight from the sarcastic mouth of an actual sixteen-year-old boy. I loved Cameron’s frank commentary on his family, his peers, his surroundings, and his unique situation. Moreover, I greatly enjoyed following Cameron’s development over the course of the novel as he discovered that there is so much more to life than mere survival.
Bray also deserves high praise for her ability to adapt the picaresque format and style for a modern American audience. According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms, a picaresque novel can either be a novel with a picaroon (a rogue or scoundrel) as its protagonist or a narrative composed of a variety of episodes connected primarily through a protagonist who is usually undergoing a journey of some kind. In either case, this type of story is usually episodic and frequently uses first person narration. In Going Bovine, Bray has managed to utilize these structural and stylistic qualities within a new, purely American and modern context. The combination of the iconic American road trip with the traditional journey of classic picaresque is a match made in literary heaven. The physical adventure full of kooky characters and fantastical events echoes the equally compelling journey Cameron is undergoing within himself as he learns to embrace life rather than merely coast through it. The creative use of the famous picaresque novel Don Quixote throughout the narrative adds another layer of complexity and richness to an already fantastic novel. Although I have not yet read the classic Spanish novel (I’m putting on my list!), I know the significant role that questions of reality versus unreality play in the narrative. Cameron, like Don Quixote, is on a quest; but also like Don Quixote, Cameron’s journey and experience seems to be constantly shifting between the real and the unreal or the imagined due to the nature of his disease. However, as in the Spanish novel, reality as traditionally or scientifically defined is insignificant when contrasted to the significant questions posed and answered by the apparently imagined journey. Cameron might actually be lying in his hospital bed being read Don Quixote the entire length of his fantastic road trip but his growth in understanding about friendship, love, sex, mortality, and the human condition could not be more real.
Whew! That got a little philosophical! But then this book made me think just as much as it made me laugh and cry. Combining topics ranging from physics to Norse myth to jazz, Libba Bray crafts a fun and fascinating journey that consistently engages the mind and the heart; because at the center of this novel is the simple story of a boy faced with the universal struggle of learning to live with reality of death.