Friday, July 30, 2010

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Shiver


Maggie Stiefvater


SUMMARY: Grace has watched the wolves in the forest behind her house since her strange childhood encounter with the pack—an encounter in which Grace was nearly mauled to death only to be rescued by a member of the pack with brilliant golden eyes. Each winter Grace waits for this wolf especially to appear amongst the trees bordering her backyard. But this winter, something strange is going on in the town and everyone seems to be turning against the wolves. Just as Grace worries that her wolf will disappear forever, she suddenly meets a boy with golden eyes who seems remarkably familiar.


Sam has lived almost his entire life torn between the wolf-world of winter and the few precious summer months of his humanity. But through both forms, his interest and admiration of Grace has remained steadfast. Now that the two have finally spoken and realized their connection, Sam must struggle to remain human as the air turns colder or face the loss of his human self, and Grace, forever.


ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: Now this is supernatural romance done the right way, my friends. This book was recommended to me a while ago but I just got around to reading it; I cannot believe I waited so long!


Stiefvater writes with a lyrical grace and manages evoke passionate emotions and intense atmosphere with delicate phrasing and a concise style. Reading Shiver felt like being curled up by a fire in the middle of a snowstorm. It was such romantic, wintry book that it almost made me believe it was late September instead of sweaty July! The plot is technically simple but the layers of emotion and interaction are rich and complex.


Also, it was great to read a love story that manages to be classically romantic but neither over-dramatic nor boring. The characters, especially Grace and Sam, are likable and interesting; they are neither annoying nor stereotypically simple. Moreover, both remain individuals within their blossoming relationship. The narrative shifts between Grace’s and Sam’s perspectives and both speak eloquently of their growing love and intense bond. Yet both Grace and Sam also maintain individual personalities. Additionally, Stiefvater manages to portray the sexual aspects of the relationship with elegance.


I also really enjoyed the new take on the werewolf mythos. Werewolves are one of my preferred supernatural creatures and it was interesting to read a unique conception of them. The emphasis on temperature in Stiefvater’s version was especially cool because it was worked into the thematic feel of the story as whole; concepts of heat versus cold were used to describe emotional states as well to evoke the atmosphere of situations. Stiefvater does a great job uniting the pieces of the novel using this concept.


Overall, Shiver was an incredibly enjoyable read and left me desperate for its recently released sequel Linger. I’ve managed to resist purchasing Linger but I don’t know how much longer I can hold back! Shiver was the first Maggie Stiefvater novel I’ve read but I can’t wait to check out her fantasy duo Lament and Ballad as well as the rest of Wolves of Mercy Falls series!


5/5 STARS


PS- Check out Maggie Stiefvater’s fun companion website.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Enjoy My Stake with a Side of Snark and Unique Characterization

Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

Scattered Thoughts After Viewing About 2.5 Seasons


So I have a confession to make. Until about two weeks ago, I had never watched an entire episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whew! It feels better to get that off my chest. I had seen a clip or two in passing but that was it. I heard about the show a lot though. Many of my friends are huge fans and it was mentioned frequently in articles, message boards, and discussions alongside many of my favorite tv obsessions, such as Veronica Mars and Firefly. It was actually getting to the point where I was starting to feel slightly ashamed and somewhat confused as to why and how I had missed this pop-culture bandwagon. So a few weeks ago I had an hour off and deciding tool around on Netflix, that enabler of all my television addictions. Low and behold, Netflix instantly provides access to entire series of Buffy.


Since that fateful day, I’ve watch approximately 2.5 seasons of BTVS. And as predicted, I’m completely addicted. The combination of pulpy fun, quirky and smart dialogue, complex teen characters, and dark humor is irresistible to me. So I naturally felt the urge to discuss my newfound Buffy love. Sadly, no one in my vicinity seems terribly interested in my pop culture catching-up. So I will simply state my thoughts to the broad and anonymous online world instead.


First, quick overview if you too have not seen BTVS. While just over a year ago she was an ordinary 15 year old California girl worried about clothes and boys, Buffy Summers has been transformed into the Slayer-the young woman of her generation destined to become the primary combatant in an ongoing war against the powers of evil, especially the undead. After a rather obvious mishap in her hometown of LA, now 16 year old Buffy and her mother have moved to Sunnydale, CA where they hope to begin a new life free of Buffy's recent 'behavioral issues.' However, it turns out that Sunnydale is ripe for Buffy's arrival; the town is located over a Hellmouth and so experiences an unusually high amount of supernatural activity. Unable to escape her destiny, Buffy takes on her role as Slayer with the aid of her Watcher/high school librarian Giles and her new friends Willow and Xander.


My instinctual reaction to Buffy is similar to my reaction to other awesome inhabitants of that fantastical place known as the Whedonverse: this is how good sci-fi is done. Whedon creates a believable and interesting universe but does not allow the mythos or the world-building process to overpower either the story or the characters. Instead the supernatural elements are used to discuss current, human issues in new, revealing ways. My tv preferences are frequently like my reading preferences: I’m all about the characters. While the supernatural aspects can always draw me into a show, it’s the characters that keep me watching. The fantastically clever and amusing writing doesn’t hurt either.


The title character took a few episodes to grow on me; I was more immediately a fan of ‘the Scooby Gang’ than the Slayer herself. But she has grown on me. I like Buffy and I think that in many ways she, like Veronica Mars, stands out among female characters on television. I enjoy her snarky wit, of course. But more so, I enjoy the combination of vulnerability and pure anger that she illustrates. Like Veronica, Buffy has some distinct flaws and she makes mistakes. She does not always win. She can be incredibly tough yet still break down into an emotional wreck. Also, her gifts and training as a Slayer give Buffy the opportunity to be aggressive and to express her anger more openly than most women are ever permitted or encouraged to do. This ties in with a larger topic I’ve been thinking about for over a year now: the portrayal of angry young women in YA media. I first began thinking about this after reading the amazing Graceling by Kristin Cashore and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart last summer and the thoughts are still brewing in my mind.


But, I think I will let those thoughts brew a little while longer before I share them in detail. After all, I still have SEVERAL more seasons of Buffy to catch up on, in between reading, writing, and that whole having a job business. But watch for more teen tv chatter mixed in with the book reviews and an upcoming booklist over the next few weeks!



Friday, July 23, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan


Will Grayson, Will Grayson

John Green and David Levithan


SUMMARY: In two separate Chicago suburbs, there are two high school boys who share both a certain sense of dissatisfaction with their lives and a name. Will Grayson and will grayson are going about their separate lives, unaware that each is spiraling towards an unexpected but somehow fated encounter with the other. That one significant meeting in the famous Chicago adult bookstore Frenchy’s causes the boys’ lives to intersect in exciting and disruptive ways.


ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: So, I’m going offer full disclosure here. I am GIGANTIC fan of John Green and David Levithan. When I heard that they were publishing a book together, I had nearly died from the potential awesomeness overload. Even the thought of such a combination gave me a young adult literature awesomeness attack! So, needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to this book for a while. I had to wait until I got access to my former high school library (where I’m working this summer) to get my hands on it. And then I saved it for the right moment to read. But about two weekends ago, that moment came. I read the entire novel in about two to three hours on rainy bus rides to and from Philiadelphia with my ipod blocking out the combined noise of Rocky and giggling teenagers. But Will Grayson, Will Grayson (WGWG for short) was worth the wait.


I greatly enjoyed this book. It seems to combine the best of both of these brilliant authors and yet result in a unique novel that feels like a true collaboration, not a simple cut and paste job. WGWG does not quite shine as brightly as the very best of either author’s individual work; instead it stands out as something new and unique. Green and Levithan’s witty characters and honest representation of emotions blend well together, maintaining a single, cohesive story throughout their separately written, alternating chapters. I loved both Will and will as well as the variety of other supporting characters, especially the geek goddess Jane and will’s mother. However, I must admit (like nearly every other reviewer) that the brilliant and bedazzling Tiny Cooper completely steals the show in this particular novel. The creation of the fabulous Tiny somewhat epitomizes the collaboration going on here; he fits into the familiar but distinct worlds of both authors’ bodies of work while also demonstrating the themes usually highlighted by both. Tiny is a completely original individual who sees no need to change himself in order to fit in or meet the approval of others. Even in his most vulnerable moments Tiny refuses to lose the confidence and pride in himself that he has obviously worked hard to gain. Additionally, he demonstrates the great optimism about humanity and the power of human connections and relationships that Levithan and Green seem to illustrate in their previous novels.


This book left me with the happy, sort of floating feeling I usually get from wonderful stories. The novel manages to explore the messy and frequently painful realities of all kinds of relationships while also illustrating the beautiful moments of true understanding and connection possible within them. WGWG is elegantly written in a combination of sardonic humor, quirky wit, and transcendent simplicity. But then, would we expect any less from these rock stars of the YA lit world?


4 ½ / 5 STARS

Friday, July 16, 2010

King of the Screwups by K.L. Going

King of the Screwups


K.L. Going


SUMMARY: Liam Geller appears to live a golden life. He embodies the concept of ‘Mr. Popularity:’ well dressed, very well liked, and attractive. But while Liam is able to gain the attention of the most beautiful girls in school, keep his wardrobe impeccably fashionable, and remain loved by his classmates, he constantly manages to screw up in ways that upset and anger his demanding CEO father the most. When Liam is actually kicked out of the house right before his senior year begins, it is his father’s brother—a gay, glam-rocking DJ—who takes Liam into his trailer in upstate New York and introduces him to a whole new world. Liam decides to use this unexpected turn of events to his advantage and attempts transform himself into the studious, successful ‘nerd’ his father obviously wants him to be. However, his ‘Aunt’ Pete has struggled to be true to himself his entire life and refuses to allow Liam to erase his real personality and interests simply to please someone else.


ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: I’m pretty sure this book has been on my ‘to read’ list for about a year. And I’m so glad I finally remembered to grab it out of the stacks last week! King of the Screwups is a delightful read with an unconventional male protagonist and a great take on the classic “to thine own self be true” narrative. Liam is an endearing character—a golden boy with a good heart and a complete lack of confidence in his own abilities. Liam’s popularity hasn’t made him arrogant but instead given him the idea that being likable is his only talent. Meanwhile his father’s inability to see beyond his own standards for success and happiness have placed Liam in an inescapable position; he wants desperately to please his father but his father’s constant pressure and displeasure has made Liam gives up. While Liam is quite a lovable character, his father is the opposite: a completely hate-able character.


But while Liam’s difficult relationship with his father is frustrating and saddening to watch, his developing relationship with his ‘aunt’ Pete is exciting to follow. Although the two clash and fight, their interactions are ultimately a source of growth for each. I also really enjoyed the little details Going wove into Liam’s narration, such as the specific fashion brands and modeling information, which build Liam into a more complete and unique character. The narrative is humorous but heartfelt. This fun novel manages to send out a positive message about identity, self-confidence, and individuality without becoming preachy or simplistic. It helps that the characters are generally individualized and well developed and the first-person narration combines winning humor, earnestness, and honesty.


This is a short review but although I greatly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to lots of people, I don’t feel the urge to gush about it for extended lengths of text. So I’ll leave it at this: if you’re in the mood for a fun and ultimately encouraging read, check out King of the Screwups.


3/5 STARS

Monday, July 12, 2010

Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Love is the Higher Law


David Levithan


SUMMARY: It’s an autumn morning in New York City and three teenagers are going about their ordinary routines. Claire is in school, only a few days into her senior year. Jasper is fast asleep in his parents’ house, enjoying the end of his summer vacation before returning to college. Peter is skipping homeroom to stand outside Tower Records, waiting for the store to open so he can buy to new Bob Dylan album. Then this average day explodes with the horror of an unexpected attack, shaking the foundations of their ordinary lives forever. But in the aftermath, these three people find themselves connecting and reconnecting with each other on a new level of unexpected intimacy and so find their lives altered in positive as well as negative ways. 9/11 has become associated with tragedy and terror but this novel attempts to chart the power of such a horrific event to illustrate amazing human capability for connection, support, and love as demonstrated in the hours, days, weeks, months, and years that followed.


ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: I’ll put it out there right now. I’m HUGE David Levithan fan. I mean HUGE like when I finally get to an ALA conference and if he’s there, I will create a David Levithan fangirl shirt and likely cry if I see him at all, even from a distance. I feel about my favorite authors the way other people feel about rock stars. So it was pretty inevitable that I would like this book and that I would gush about it to some degree. You have been warned.


Like all of Levithan’s books, Love is the Higher Law is a gorgeously written exploration of the diversity and complexity of human relationships. The book’s narration is split between the three main characters and each emerges as distinct voices. However, the brevity of the novel limits the time the reader spends with each character, preventing one from becoming as involved with each as one might wish. The narrative also jumps through time, charting specific times from the events of 9/11 through the year leading to its first anniversary. So while it is a story focused on three specific characters and it maintains a visible plot, the novel resembles a series of connected vignettes or snapshots more than a continuous narrative. In this way it reminds me of Levithan’s earlier book, Realm of Possibility.


Reading Love is the Higher Law was a gentle yet powerful experience. Levithan attempts to illustrate varied responses to a horrifying and disturbing event such as 9/11 with subtlety and honesty. While I did not fall happily and passionately in love with it as I have with Levithan’s other novels, I was distinctly moved by the emotional authenticity and elegant writing style of Love is the Higher Law. This seems to be one of the first novels, both YA and adult, that attempts to explore the effects of 9/11 on the lives of individuals. While I am surprised at this fact, I am not surprised that Levithan’s skill and honesty have resulted in such a thoughtful and resonant piece


3 1/2 / 5 STARS

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Tender Morsels


Margo Lanagan


SUMMARY: Liga has undergone cruelty and tragedy nearly beyond imagination during her fifteen years on earth. When she wanders into the forest in complete desperation and despair, Liga is transported by natural magic into a separate world—a world built of her heart’s desire. So Liga raises her daughters Branza and Urdda in her personal heaven, a world free of the unkindness and violence Liga has experienced. However, their heavenly world is not impenetrable; greedy intruders and strange bears break into their gentle haven. Urdda’s curiosity causes her to push at the boundaries of their idyllic life while Branza’s growth into womanhood is disturbed by these unpleasant other worldly encounters. Meanwhile, even Liga herself begins to feel an occasional loneliness within her heaven. When these women find themselves tumbling out of this heavenly world and back into the imperfect reality of Liga’s nightmares, they must learn to survive in the real world, where horror and beauty might lie side by side.


ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: I heard a great deal about this book over the last year and after having it on my ‘to read’ list for a few months, I finally got a chance to read it. My reactions were somewhat mixed but to be totally honest, that could be due to the haphazard way in which I read it. I read it during the first week of my very hectic summer job as a counselor/librarian at an ESL summer camp run at an independent high school. The first week was especially crazy so I would squeeze some reading in before bed and my sleepiness would occasionally result in confusion. So after that likely too full disclosure, I will try to sum up my reactions to Tender Morsels.


Based in the Grimm fairy-tale “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” Tender Morsels attempts to flesh out and complicate this original story with vividly lush and dark details. In the true spirit of the Brothers Grimm, Lanagan has chosen to use her story to explore the shadowy sides of human nature and the way in which cruelty can fit so closely alongside beauty in the human world. In total, I found this book to be a lovely and thoughtful narrative that managed to deal with some sensitive issues and harsh realities with skill.


Lanagan manages use the fairy-tale setting to address issues that remain current. She frankly but sensitively portrays incest, sexual and physical abuse, and gang rape within the first few chapters alone. Liga is well-drawn character; her reactions to her father’s long-term abuse and the attack by the town boys are as complex and confused as any expressed in an actual survivor’s memoir. Lanagan has not attempted to analyze Liga but rather has recorded her emotional and mental progress with precision and poignancy.


The shifting of narrators is gently done; occasionally it is so subtle as to be confusing (at least to my sleep-deprived mind!). I also found Liga’s transportation into her ‘heaven’ quite confusing the first time I read it but then that I can credit to the character’s own confusion and lack of understanding. However, I also felt that some character introductions were a bit too sudden; the greedy ‘wee-man’ who is magicked into their haven, for example, jumped into the narrative and his interests and role remained unclear to me for several sections of the piece.


Above all, however, I found this book to be very powerful. The events portrayed can be quite violent, disturbing, and brutal and although the book retains a sense of hope throughout, it is definitely a dark book that deals frankly with some very difficult subjects. However, Lanagan’s writing is lovely and the piece possesses a haunting clarity of the emotional aspects of interactions and scenes. She manages to recreate a variety of viewpoints, both male and female, with equal authenticity. Although this novel would be qualified as fantasy, the issues and emotions it represents directly speak to humans all over the world today.


4/5 STARS

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Vanilla Can be Awesome, Too!

Yellow Buttermilk Cupcakes

with Fluffy Vanilla Frosting


From Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes


Well I wanted to bake something on my Saturday off this past weekend and a friend had recently requested vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting after finding the Guinness Chocolate confections a bit too much for her more delicate palate. So, I began paging through my small supply of cookbooks last Thursday evening and these scrumptiously simple cupcakes caught my eye in Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes. I decided to try them out and I’m pretty sure I’ll be coming back to them again in the future fairly often because they turned out beautifully on the first try! I’m sorry this is a post with almost no photos. I got so absorbed in making them that I forgot to take pictures!


Yellow Buttermilk Cupcakes

3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon baking soda

2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt (unless you use salted butter)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 ¼ sticks) butter*

2 ¼ cups sugar

5 large whole eggs plus 3 egg yolks, room temperature

2 cups buttermilk, room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place liners in cupcake trays. While the original recipe states that it makes 36 cupcakes, I got 40 out of it.

2.) Sift together both flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt (if you using it).

3.) Use an electric mixer to cream butter and sugar together. The mixture should look fluffy and light.

4.) Add the whole eggs in individually, mixing thoroughly after each addition.

5.) Add the yolks and mix in completely.

6.) Add in the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk (so the order is flour mix then 1 cup buttermilk then flour mix then 1 cup buttermilk then flour mix). Make sure to beat thoroughly after each addition.

7.) Add in the vanilla and mix.

8.) Divide the batter between the cups. I like to use a ¼ cup to measure out the batter into the cups.

9.) Bake, rotating the pans about halfway through. The finished cupcakes spring back when touched and a cake tester (or toothpick) should come out clean.


Fluffy Vanilla Frosting

1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter

1 pound (4 cups) confectioners’ sugar, approximately

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract


1.) Beat the butter with an electric mixer until creamy and pale in color.

2.) Add the sugar, ½ cup at a time, and beat well after each addition. After every two additions turn the speed up to high and beat for about 10 seconds to help aerate the frosting. I added a little bit extra confectioners’ sugar to firm the frosting up just a pinch; I find this necessary with most recipes during the summer. When complete the frosting will be very fluffy but still firm.

3.) Add the vanilla and mix until the frosting is smooth again. Now decorate away! I used fun gel paste food coloring to dye the frosting and then added sprinkles but it looks lovely in its natural color as well! The frosting generally goes on the cupcakes very smoothly.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Paper Towns by John Green


Paper Towns


John Green


SUMMARY: Quentin Jacobsen has spent the majority of his life in love with the brilliantly mysterious and adventure-addicted girl next door, Margo Roth Speigelman. When Q and Margo were nine, they discovered a dead body together. However, since then their interactions have been limited and vaguely friendly at best. While Margo is well-known and admired for her exploits both small and large at Winter Park High, Q is content with his safe and generally anonymous life of school days spent hanging out near the band room between classes with his closest friends Radar and Ben and weekends spent playing videogames. But Q’s comfortably predictable life is suddenly interrupted when Margo appears outside his window for the first time in about nine years. And what follows is a bizarre and thrilling night that Q hopes will be the beginning of a whole new life in which he becomes Margo’s new partner in her glamorous escapades. But when the sun rises, Margo has disappeared and gone from merely being mysterious to becoming a mystery herself. But when Q explores further, trying to understand their night together, he realizes that Margo is a mystery meant to be solved—by him. As he follows the strange, seemingly disconnected clues from Walt Whitman to abandoned trailers, Q begins to question whether he ever really knew the girl he adored for so long.


ONESMARTCUPCAKE SAYS: John Green strikes again with another smart, funny, and emotionally resonant novel. Before I fully explain why I so thoroughly enjoyed this book, I want to address some critiques of the novel.


In developing this review, I glanced around the online book world to feel out some other reactions to the novel. Paper Towns has been criticized by some readers as being too similar to Green’s earlier novels, especially in terms of characterization. Is it true that Q shares certain qualities of intellectualism and geekiness with Miles and Colin? Yes. Does this nerdy and quirky hero have an intense infatuation with a brilliant but unreachable girl? Yes, he does. However, I argue that despite such similarities, Paper Towns stands out as its own work with its own separate (albeit connected) sets of questions and themes. As in his earlier novels, Green explores the difficulty in truly knowing and understanding another human being. He continues to delve into our constant tendency to perceive others through the window of our own needs, desires, and interests and so creating images of people that usually turn out to be much further from reality than we would like to admit. But while Looking for Alaska dealt with these themes in the larger context of dealing with death and grief and An Abundance of Katherines worked with them in context of the unpredictability of life, Paper Towns examines them head-on, utilizing a detective story format to explore the big mystery of human interaction and relationships.


As usual, Green’s characters are intelligent and quirky and his novel is interwoven with a diversity of seeming unrelated but interesting topics ranging this time from music to cartography to Walt Whitman. The text also manages to capture that strange time at the end of high school when everyone is on the verge of entering a new world and a new life separated from the familiar people and places and when the resulting uncertainty can force unprecedented reactions out of a variety of people.


I really enjoyed the detective story/mystery aspect of this novel. I’m an avid mystery reader and here, Green takes the predictable structure of a traditional detective story and uses it to follow Q’s simultaneous search for Margo and for more honest relationships. I also thoroughly enjoyed the humor embedded into the narrative, especially through Margo’s ingenious plots and Q and his gang’s final, epic road trip. Green also manages to achieve some truly lovely emotional moments between his characters, especially the unsure but determined Q and the fascinating (and somewhat selfish) Margo. Overall, John Green continues to produce witty YA fiction and accordingly my massive literary crush on him continues to grow.


4 ½ / 5 STARS


Monday, July 5, 2010

Going Bovine by Libba Bray



Going Bovine

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.

5/5 STARS