Libba Bray’s Going Bovine had me laughing from the very first page; quite an accomplishment for the Acknowledgements page. If you’re going to write a book whose plot revolves nearly entirely around the hallucinations of a dying teenage boy, I suppose you’d better have a creative sense of humor.
Cameron was your typical apathetic outcast, dragging himself through the high school minefield of snooty sisters and impossible crushes, until weird things started happening: Hallucinations that couldn’t be explained by bad pot. Feathers appearing and disappearing on windowsills. The infamous English class meltdown. The fire giants. Cameron’s ordinarily disappointing parents take him to a slew of doctors who conclude that Cameron will soon die of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. In other words? Mad cow disease.
This, a diagnosis of a disease that will give him wild hallucinations, is where the adventure begins. According to the punk angel, Dulcie (real or hallucinated? your call), there is a cure for his disease, and it’s up to him to find it. He starts by breaking out of the hospital with Gonzo, the paranoid dwarf, the first of many increasingly eccentric acquantances. (The talking garden gnome slash Viking god definitely earns his keep.) Things only get stranger from there, as he journeys from Texas to New Orleans to Florida searching for Dr. X and the cure while trying to outrun the fire giants.
The journey is pretty incoherent, both to Cameron and the reader. The events stagger between the clearly hallucinatory (the Wizard of Reckoning? right), the clearly real (IV drips, the hospital nurse), and the ambiguous blending of the two (does his family actually have a search warrant out for him? he did what with Staci?). Meanwhile, all Cameron is working with is the vague instruction to look for random clues.
Bray has a brilliant writing style. All the characters speak in witty and convincing dialog. She keeps surprising me with unusual turns of phrase and unexpected word choice. While each episode is clever and hilarious, though, I found that the humor and the randomness slowed the story down enough to make it hard to get invested in the plot. You’ll have to tell me if you felt the same.
For a book about a boy dying of a horrible disease, Going Bovine is surprisingly cheeky and not the least bit depressing. Cameron will go through the obligatory emotional transformations concerning his family and life and all that big stuff – sorry, it’s required – but don’t worry about tearing up. He may be spending a lot of time in a hospital bed, but thanks to his hallucinations, his last days are far more interesting than his healthy days.