Going Bovine by Libba Bray

[This post contains spoilers!]

I bought Going Bovine by Libba Bray about four months ago when I saw it on a list of under-appreciated YA fiction. I admit, the cover drew my attention–a cow holding a garden gnome? Awesome! And when I read the description, I knew it would be the first book I read after passing my graduate defense.  So it went up on my bookshelf and I’ve been staring at it wistfully these past few months, just waiting for that golden moment when I could finally pick it up and read it guilt-free.

Going Bovine is essentially the story of 16-year-old Cameron’s death, or at least the few weeks leading up to it.

Cameron is the kind of kid that doesn’t have friends and doesn’t do well in school because of a lack of motivation and no consideration for anyone but himself. As he states multiple times, he just doesn’t care. But after contracting mad cow disease, Cameron starts to see things differently. He has hallucinations of fire people and angels, and is crippled by horrible seizures. He is admitted to the hospital where he learns of his great mission to save the world from a darkness that escaped a worm hole when a certain Dr. X discovered the secret to time travel. No, seriously, that’s the plot.

So he sets off, escaping the hospital and traveling the country, meeting some crazy characters and getting in and out of some unusual situations, all in order to complete his mission–which turns out to be something entirely different than he initially believed.

The best thing about this book is the characters. Bray does an amazing job of throwing in the most seemingly random and totally lovable characters, and writing them with such sincerity that you can’t help but tag along on their journey. Some of the most memorable include a group of philosophical stoners, a punkrock angel named Dulcie, a germ-obsessed dwarf named Gonzo, some way-too-happy cult followers, and a norse god named Balder stuck in the form of a garden gnome. Honestly, the cast alone could carry this book even without the crazy happenstance events and bizarre plot twists.

I was also really blown away by how well-written the book was. The voice of Cam is the most striking aspect of the story, cynical and crude, always digressing in ways totally characteristic of a 16-year-old boy. But also just the descriptions and moments in this book–dialogue that will have you laughing out loud juxtaposed with a scene so profound and through-provoking that you almost have to put the book down and take a deep breath.

There were some aspects of this book, however, that were sort of frustrating. It was, for one thing, surprisingly predictable, (and long, 480 pages long.) You know right away the twist of the story–that it’s not really about saving the world, it’s about fitting in as much life in two weeks as possible–and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to have figured it out ahead of time or not. And yet, at the same time, the predictable aspects of the story are what made it kind of fun. Everything just fit together by the end and in a way, that was really neat….too neat….but cool…I think?

Granted, there were some relationship-y things that did irritated me. Cam ending up with the Dulcie in the afterlife seemed forced, and the reveal of Gonzo’s sexuality being thrown in at the end seemed unnecessary. And yet, each character deserved the love and well-roundedness they received. Very few people were left as flat characters, and that I definitely appreciated.

The thing is, this book left me very thoughtful. I finished in the mid-morning and spent the rest of the day just contemplating what I’d read. Were the things I didn’t like actually things I liked? Had I missed anything? Was anything really that important? Am I living my life to the fullest?

This book ends on a beautiful moment in the only way the book could have concluded. Was it satisfying? I still don’t have an answer for that, but the fact that I’m still thinking about it makes me think it was a successful book regardless–and definitely worth a read.

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