Author: Libba Bray
Published: September 2009 by Delecorte Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy
All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school--and life in general--with a minimum of effort. It's not a lot to ask. But that's before he's given some bad news: he's sick and he's going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure--if he's willing to go in search for it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most.
And, welllll....I'm on the fence about it. In one respect, I love it's bold quirkiness. Bray is not afraid of putting all of her idiosyncratic ideas and thoughts into her writing, regardless of whether or not the reader will like or understand her sense of humor. She doesn't care what people think, and that, in turn, makes me like her.
However, I don't want to confuse my liking of the author to cloud over whether or not I liked her book. In the other respect, I feel like, aside from a few moments of originality, it's just another cliche young adult book. In fact, it's so incredibly cliche, that at times I'm wondering if it is, in fact, meant to be caricatural.
The most cliche moments were the social dynamics of Cam's high school. There is a scene with stoners in the rarely used school bathroom, sitting around smoking pot and discussing philosophy. There is a moment when a Goth girl in Cam's class defies the teacher for no reason at all--just to be nonconformist. Cam's worst nemeses are the meathead jocks and their airhead cheerleader girlfriends. Cam himself is just the music-obsessed slacker high schooler--the exact same protagonist of 80% of all YA literature.
See where I'm going with this?
Another thing that really bothered me was how Bray tried extremely hard to make her characters "relatable" and "real." In doing so, she has done the exact opposite and molded her characters into something of a distant, unattainable quality. For example, Bray attempts to use sarcasm as a tool to make her characters relatable; what most people don't realize is that sarcasm is a defense mechanism, to distance yourself from others so you don't become emotionally invested in them. Soooo....you can see why that didn't work out so well. Not only that, but their excessive sarcasm and incessant trashtalking makes them irritating and annoying.
I can't even count how many times the phrase "If this were a movie..." was used in Going Bovine. Bray is making constant, unceasing comparisons as just how real and not fake her story is; I almost wanted to reach into the book to throttle Cam and scream, "We GET it!! Now shut up!!"
In addition (yeah yeah, I know, I'm almost done complaining--just hold up a bit longer), in an attempt to make the conversations and interactions between characters funny and amusing, Bray has sacrificed the reality of the scene. For example, on page 251, Cam is being introduced to some guys at a party:
A heavy guy in a black wrestling T-shirt greets Justin with a complicated handshake that ends with them both bumping chests. "Justin. Whassup?"
Justin shrugs, hands in his pockets. "Not much, bro. How's the action?"
The big guy looks around. "So-so. Too many guys, not enough girls. Hey, Tara."
"Hey, Carbine," Tara says, taking a drag off a new cigarette. "This is Cameron. He's dying of mad cow disease."
Carbine nods at me. "Cool. Want a beer?"
"No, that's okay."
He hands me a full cup. "Here you go."
"Thanks," I say, taking it.
This scene is amusing--yet, real people in real-life situations don't interact this way. This is more of a personal issue for me--if you enjoy books containing interactions such as that, then you'd probably love Going Bovine--but me, as hard as I try, I can't get myself to enjoy it. Not because of it's ridiculousness, but the fact that it contradicts everything else Bray in trying to accomplish. She wants to make a relatable and real story, and yet, she adds scenes like such in it. It befuddles my poor, little, one-track noggin.
While I liked that, throughout the story, she kept certain elements present that really bring home the truth of Cam's adventures at the end of the story--it's just not enough to save the story. I'm 99.9% sure that I'll never read this book ever again--and to quote Oscar Wilde: "If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all."