Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Cameron is a drifter, meaning he drifts through life. His sister sees him as an embarrassment and his accomplishments add up to a big fat nothing. He has no hopes, no dreams, no wishes. During a rather unfortunate day in which fire monsters nearly destroy the school, Cameron finds out that he has Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, otherwise known as mad-cow disease. The diagnosis blows. The disease will slowly eat holes in his brain until it looks like Swiss cheese. The bonus side effects include hallucinations, muscle spasms, and eventually death. Everyone has given up on him so Cameron sets out on a journey to live. His traveling companions are a hypochondriac dwarf named Gonzo, an immortal yard gnome named Balder, and his punk rock guardian angel Dulcie. Together they seek Dr. X, a man who has traveled time and space and may just have a cure—that is if the fire giants don't get to him first.
Libba Bray departs from her usual paranormal fare to bring this wonderfully descriptive story. Cameron’s nihilism along with a healthy bit of sarcasm and a dash of hope, make him a great character to travel with. His view of the world isn’t happy go lucky, but you can really see that he wouldn’t mind it if it was. So we discover when Cameron and Gonz stumble across a cult in which everyone is happy as long as they bowl perfect games and drink vanilla milkshakes. But Cameron is the kind of kid that upsets the balance, not conforms, and it is for this reason that the reader keeps on reader.
This is also a very hard book to read, because in the end, this is a book about life and death. Although this may seem like a spoiler, I promise it is not…mad cow disease is fatal. There is no cure. Even as Cameron journeys past happy milkshake bowlers and gnome stealing frat boys, the reader (and Cameron himself) is aware that the clock is ticking. Except for the reader, we know that this entire journey is all in his head. Again, I promise this isn’t a spoiler. Bray doesn’t hide this fact. There are a number of terrible moments when the reader is painfully aware that the real Cameron is lying in a hospital bed on a ventilator while his family sits around him watching him slowly die. It’s a terrible feeling. One of the reasons I had such a hard time getting through this book.
Was the journey that Cameron goes on in his head worth me reading a 550-page tome? If I already know how it is going to end, should I even bother to keep reading, let alone for another few hundred pages? I still don’t know, but I can tell you that I can’t stop thinking about it. And the end. Wow. The same word backwards and forwards. Wow.
Going Bovine is a collision of bizarre, marvelous, random events where everything is tied together even if it is a little obvious. This is a physics, philosophy, fantasy, romantic journey that asks—what does it mean to live?