Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Canada) - (US)
Pages: 480 pages
Finished: Mar. 8, 2010
First Published: Sept. 22, 2009
Genre: YA, magical realism
The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World.
Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.
Reason for Reading: I enjoyed Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle books so was up for reading whatever she wrote next. I picked this for my March book for the Random Read Challenge.
Summary: The book starts of with Cameron, your typical slacker 16-year-old living in a family that has drifted into typical modern, busy, note-leaving suburbanites, while he and his popular younger sister are at that stage where they hate each other at home and she pretends he don't exist outside of the house. Since Cameron often does strange things it isn't easily noticeable when he first starts showing strange behaviour, yelling out at hallucinations and twitching. Not until he has a major seizure at school and is taken to the hospital do the doctor's start their weeks long testing and it is diagnosed that Cameron has Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (often referred to as the human form of mad cow disease). It is at this point that Cameron is visited by a punk angel, and sent on a road trip with his hospital room mate, a hypochondriac teen dwarf. Thus starts their surreal, hallucinogenic, out of this world journey across the States which has them visiting a happiness cult, picking up a yard gnome who think he is a Viking god, meeting a dead New Orleans jazz player, playing weird TV game shows, being chased down by the snow globe corporation and meeting up with a group of scientists who are on the verge of parallel world travel. This is the tip of the iceberg.
Comments: What can I say? The book is very well written and one wild ride from start to finish. There is plenty of humour, the events are so out there that everything is surreal. Written in the first person of Cameron, the reader knows from the outset that we have an unreliable narrator. Cameron will tell us the hallucinations he is having then he tells us the 'real' strange things he sees. What is reality?
The book's whole purpose seems to be to examine death. The process of knowing you are to die soon, how you handle that knowledge. When do you start living? Is it ever too late to start living? What is living anyway? What happens at the end? There are no spiritual connections made and for me that made the examination process fall flat and ultimately meaningless. However you may reach a different conclusion.
Even though the book's message didn't hit home with me, I enjoyed the road trip (mostly) for what it was, a lot of eccentric characters and crazy events. There does come a time in the story though when everything suddenly became clear and from that point on I felt the book was longer than it needed to be. The charade kept being played and the hints kept being dropped to the point of frustration for this reader. I would have liked to have seen more of the family's reactions, feelings and coping during this time that Cameron was away. Finally, the language in the book is very vulgar and I found that hugely off-putting though I do realize it was realistic of the characters.
Ultimately, I did have some problems with the story and some other issues with some of the content that I would rather have done without but it certainly is an entertaining story. I enjoyed the characters of Gonzo, the Mexican dwarf, and Balder, the Viking garden gnome the best. I couldn't put the book down and read it quickly over the weekend. This book isn't going to appeal to everyone, and it is not anything like the author's Gemma Doyle books, but if the strange, phantasmagoric and surreal appeal to you then this may be right up your alley.