Going Bovine by Libba Bray

I came to read, er, listen to Going Bovine by Libba Bray in a rather round about way.  I stumbled upon it while browsing the young adult section at Half Price Books.  It looked interesting so I added to my Amazon Wish List.  Quite a bit later my mother-in-law bought it for me for my birthday so I added it to my TBR pile.  And some months later I noticed the audio version at the local library.  It was only then that I decided to listen to it in the car.  So keep that in mind and for what it is worth.

Cover of "Going Bovine"
Cover of Going Bovine

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 of 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.

I will confess I was not expecting the level of profanity or teenage angst I encountered immediately and in heavy doses throughout but once I settled in I enjoyed the story.

It was creative and entertaining for the most part. I did find it dragged a bit in parts but usually picked back up rather quickly with a plot twist or new character. Despite my not liking all the teenage angst, etc. I have to admit it dealt with real issues and captures much of the emotions and interactions of that difficult period of life. As VOYA reviewer Laura Panter points out:

Bray portrays Cameron so realistically that he is every teen struggling with his or her identity. At times, readers will both love and hate Cameron as his adventures are alternately comical, nail biting, and heart wrenching.

And while the main character isn’t all that likable for most of the book, quite a few of the characters were hilarious and very well done. I cracked a smile practically every time Balder (the yard Gnome and Norse god) was involved and Gonzo (Cam’s hypochondriac dwarf sidekick) had his moments as well.

And I have to say the narrator, Erick Davies, did a tremendous job bringing it all to life. I was amazed at how he could provide the voice for so many different and unique characters and give them all a sound and style of their own. I have a feeling this would be a great audio book to take on long trips. But not appropriate for young kids and your tolerance for profanity and vulgarity will be a factor in your enjoyment.

I think your reaction will also depend on how your sense of humor and perspective on the world matches Bray’s. Children’s Literature’s  Claudia Mills offers rather effusive praise:

This is a huge book in every way: an epic, picaresque 480-page journey; a scathingly observed social satire of the ways in which we numb ourselves to avoid the pain and risk of actually engaging with our lives; a stay-up-late-to-finish-it page-turner; and a sprawling, hilarious, and deeply moving meditation on what it is, in the end, that makes life worth living.

School Library Journal is a little less effusive:

It’s a trip worth taking, though meandering and message-driven at times. Some teens may check out before Cameron makes it to his final destination, but many will enjoy asking themselves the questions both deep and shallow that pop up along the way.

SLJ also offered some thoughts on the audio version:

There is so much going on that listeners could easily lose the twisting thread in an instant of inattention. Filled with slang, four letter words, humor, pathos, satire, absurdities, sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, and the fight between good and evil, this is not a journey for the faint of heart.

I have to agree with that!  But all in all I found it to be an imaginative and engaging story that deals with some serious issues in entertaining and interesting ways.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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