I knew I was getting myself into something truly unique when I opened the pages of Going Bovine and practically fell off the couch laughing after reading Libba Bray's acknowledgments section. Acknowledgments, you ask (skeptically)? Yes. Truly hilarious. That and the cover. And the title. The trifecta of reader hooks and I knew, no matter what, that those 480 dense pages before me would turn out to be one wild ride.
As someone who has perfected the Art of Slacker, Cameron is an apathetic, Grade-A dork who just so happens to also be bitingly smart. He's become a master at doing the least possible in any situation while managing to not draw any attention to himself. But something happens to Cameron that suddenly makes him the center of his family and classmate's attention - he's contracted a fatal (and really rare) form of mad cow disease.
While in the hospital, Cameron meets Dulcie - a punk angel with pink hair and combat boots - who informs him there is a cure for his disease, if he's willing to go out and search for it. Oh, and along the way he just might be able to save the universe too. Sort of a two-for-one deal. Joined by the hypochondriac little person Gonzo and an enchanted yard gnome Balder, Cameron sets off on a cross-country, modern day Don Quixote quest encountering not windmills but a happiness-driven cult, jazz musicians, Disney World, snow globes, and small-town diners.
Sound trippy? In every sense of the word. Yes.
This book could essentially be divided into two sections: Cameron pre-mad cow disease diagnosis and Cameron post-diagnosis. Little details mentioned during the first section pop up later during the narrative, turning Going Bovine into not just a discovery journey for Cameron but the reader as well. It's like a giant connect the dots puzzle, spanning from Texas to Florida with millions of tiny little stops along the way. Wherein nothing is a coincidence - everything is connected.
Like many teens, Cameron truly believes he will have all the time in the world to experience life, to see and do all those things that will make his life worthwhile but in actuality he doesn't. It's not a far-fetched concept and one that is sobering in all it's underhanded and witty observances. Cameron's journey becomes an intricate coming of age/quest tale with an unreliable narrator twist. Which story will you believe? Is Cameron spending his final days in a hospital bed, suffering from extreme hallucinations or is he tearing across the country, surrounded by loyal friends and battling evil?
It's no wonder Going Bovine was chosen as the 2010 Printz Award winner - the committee is notorious for choosing books that are slightly harder than average to puzzle through (like: how i live now or Jellicoe Road). They are also known for selecting books that make parents nervous (think: Looking for Alaska). Although Cameron is one of those narrators you instantly connect with (despite his lack of common ground with most readers), he has quite the foul potty mouth and isn't above making cringe-worthy remarks. Though his twisted chapter headings pretty much sealed his instant appeal in my book.
Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy review
Em's Bookshelf review
In Between the Pages review
Largehearted Boy review
Mrs. Magoo Reads review
book source: my local library