When the FNC finds a book that causes us to gush and squee so much that we practically fight over who gets to review it, we review it together! Sara and I joined forces to discuss, book-club-style, one of our favorite recent reads, Going Bovine by Libba Bray.
If you've been on the fence about trying out this book, or if it's still sitting in your TBR pile, this is the review for you!
Read below for our (spoiler-free!) take on the novel, or just entertain yourself by counting the number of times we used the words "awesome" and "hilarious." Because this book totally is both.
Pre-co-review reading: Going Bovine summary on Goodreads.
Sara – Let me just start by saying that Balder is awesome!
Donna – Yes! You were further into the book than I was and you kept saying that and I had no clue what you meant. Then I finally got to the Balder part… and he was amazing.
S – To back up, for the non-readers – Balder, one of the characters, is a talking yard gnome who’s actually a cursed Norse god.
D – And that is the brilliance of Going Bovine in a nutshell.
S – The main character, Cameron, is your average, disaffected teenage guy with less-than-average aspirations…until he learns that he has mad cow disease. Which rots your brain, gives you hallucinations…and kills you.
D – Fun times. And somehow, Libba Bray turned this into a bittersweet tragic-comedic masterpiece. Not exaggerating.
S – I think my favorite thing about the writing – aside from it being hilarious and beautiful – is the fact that the whole story is so bizarre, but there’s never a point where Libba stopped and said, “I wonder if I should stop and explain some of this.” It’s like, you’re on the train, and you’re gonna ride it to the end.
D – And that Cameron knows he’s going crazy, but goes on a ridiculous quest (a road trip from Texas to Florida) for a cure that modern medicine says doesn’t exist – really pulls you into it as a reader. Because you care about him, and you want to believe, just like he wants to.
S – Not to mention, it’s all tied back to the “It’s a Small World” ride in Disneyworld.
D – Yes, we do love our Disney.
S – And it’s also tied into Don Quixote, the ultimate windmill chaser, in an explicit way. Cameron goes on his quest with Gonzo (his Sancho), a hypochondriac dwarf, and he’s inspired to seek out his cure by Dulcie (his Dulcinea), a pink-haired punk-rock angel. I also felt like it had Wizard of Oz tie-ins. But that might just be me. Each character was searching for something – Cameron his brain (literally), Gonzo his courage, and Balder his heart.
D – It’s so hard to describe this book, because the whole thing is like an inside joke that Libba is sharing with us. I want you guys to be in on it!
S – And it hits on so many themes, like every theme from every coming of age novel ever written. What’s real? What matters? But it never feels like too much. It’s all woven together beautifully, and surprisingly subtle, so you’re never like “Oh, this is where the message comes in.” I guess that’s why it won the Printz.
D – Agreed, completely. You know what else I loved? The happiness cult.
S – CESSNAB! So awesome!
D – FYI, CESSNAB is the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack ’n Bowl. A world of instant gratification, with the motto, “Don’t hurt your happiness.”
S – Completely bizarre. And awesome. The voice and sense of humor throughout the novel is so dry and twisted, and the dialogue is hilarious. I think that’s why I could handle the epic proportions of Cameron’s adventures. He took so much of it in stride, so it was easy to follow his example as a reader.
D – Yes! I mean, he gets sucked into the CESSNAB cult, learns about alternate universes from crazy physicists, competes in a YA!TV spring break game show, meets a jazz legend, and gets chased by fire giants AND employees of a psycho snow globe company. All to save the world and find a cure for his disease. And I know I’m forgetting a few things.
S – It’s a huge book! There’s no way to cover it all. That’s why everyone should read it, so they get in on the jokes, and we can all talk about the Copenhagen Interpretation and Star Fighters. By the way, can I just manage how genius the pop culture references are? They’re genius.
D – That’s an excellent idea. And honestly, the size of the book intimidated me a bit at first, and I found myself rushing through it because I had so little time to read. 150 pages in, I knew I was missing the magic, so I switched to the audiobook. BEST decision ever. It forced me to take my time and really appreciate the story.
S – You can’t rush through Going Bovine. There are just layers and layers of awesome. And since it’s this absurd, epic tale, we should tell you guys what we thought of how it all wrapped up. (No spoilers, promise!) Donna?
D – As I was nearing the end, I completely trusted Libba to end it properly, but I had no idea what she’d do!
S – Even though the majority of the plot was totally surreal, I believe it was real. I believed in his quest. I cared about Cameron so much!
D – I felt like Libba ended it perfectly.
S – Agreed. On one hand was the ending I wanted, and on the other was the ending I knew had to be, and she found this balance.
D - *Bows to Libba’s brilliance.* In conclusion?
S – I’ve never read anything like it. Throw your preconceptions out the window. Be prepared to laugh and cry. Sometimes at the same time.
D – It reached beyond what you normally see in YA novels, and that’s saying something, because YA novels just keep raising the bar. It grabbed me, and it had such heart, but I laughed the whole time.
S – Alright everyone, go read Going Bovine!
Buy Going Bovine
Going Bovine website
Libba Bray's website and livejournal
FNC Recap of Libba's keynote at SCBWI 2010 Winter Conference