Sunday, May 6, 2012

YA Review: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

The Wizard of OZ on steroids. No,...on hallucinogens.

First off, let me say that I tried this book a year ago on audio and just couldn't get into it. I liked what I heard, for the most part, but the beginning is more of an introduction to who Cameron is, and unfortunately beginning-of-the-book Cam, is kind of a jerk. I mean, when watching The Wizard of Oz, you don't really care how Dorothy came to be living with Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, you just want to see her get caught up in that twister.

Anyway, I picked the print version up this go-round and was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I fell down the rabbit hole. Cameron's angst about his possibly/maybe having an affair dad, his flighty mother, and his perfectly popular twin sister is heightened to the point of being obnoxious, but there's also some endearing qualities about him, like for instance the fact that he's dying. Yeah, bummer.

Cameron has somehow contracted Mad Cow disease, a fatal illness that attacks the brain, for which there is no cure. Things are kind of bleak, if you don't count the pep rally for him at school, complete with cow-colored decorations, or the amount of people who used to hate or just ignore him, that all of a sudden are terribly concerned about him. Soon, (very soon if you ask me and Cameron), our young protagonist ends up confined to the hospital. The disease is attacking the parts of his brain that affect his motor skills and limbs.

It is in the hospital that he meets Dulcie, a punk-rock-ish angel who tells him that he should escape the hospital, along with his hospital roommate Gonzo, (a hypochondriac dwarf he used to get high with at school), and seek out the elusive Dr. X., who is quite possibly the only man who can cure him. Then things really get weird.

I liked this book a lot. So many of the weird things Cameron and his motley crew encounters are strange, but Bray writes them so humorously that they somehow make sense. Being introduced to a dead jazzman in New Orleans during Mardi Gras by a drag queen sounds really crazy when I say it out loud,...but Cameron experiences it. Driving to spring break in a discontinued Cadillac with a dwarf and a talking Norse God trapped in a yard gnome sounds improbable, but again, it happens...or does it? Squished into the story are brief recalls of his hospital room, his parents, and his nurse, leaving the reader and Cameron to wonder if he is actually on a journey, or if he is dreaming of this life while trapped in his uncooperative body back at the hospital.

At the heart of this tale, is a beautiful story of the emotional strain of a person who is dying (too) young. Cameron's anger, sadness, and confusion, combined with his wanting to fight for his life are all interwoven and hidden in your garden variety roadtrip story. He grows and changes in ways that even as the reader you don't seem to realize at first, because it is seamless.

Libba Bray's dead-on jabs point out the flaws of our current society and pop culture. She also attacks the ideas of fear and controlled complacency. She champions the ideals that life is unpredictable, tragic, but beautiful all the same if you open your eyes and experience it. 


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