Going Bovine
Libba Bray
Random House Children's Books
496 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385733984


Summary
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 (or a 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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Aka—Martha E. Bray
Birth—March 11, 1964
Where—Alabama, USA
Education—B.A., University of Texas
Awards—Michael L. Printz Award
Currently—lives in New York, New York


Libba Bray is an American author of Young Adult novels, including the books A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, The Sweet Far Thing and Going Bovine.

She lived in Texas until she was 26 years old. After that she moved to New York City, where she now lives with her husband and nine-year-old son. Her father was a preacher and her mother, a teacher. In her autobiography on her official site she states:

My dad was a Presbyterian minister. Yes, I am one of those dreaded P.K.s-Preacher's Kids. Be afraid. Be very afraid...

Bray was born in Alabama. At the age of eighteen, Bray was involved in a serious car accident and had to undergo thirteen surgeries in six years to reconstruct her face. She has an artificial left eye because of this accident.

Bray graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1988 as a Theatre major. As a budding playwright, she felt it important to be in New York. When her childhood best friend, already living in Manhattan, called saying she was looking for a roommate, Bray was soon on her way to join her. Her first job was in the publicity department of Penguin Putnam, followed by three years at Spier, an advertising agency specializing in book advertising.

Bray was encouraged to write a Young Adult novel by her husband, Barry Goldblatt, a children's book agent, and Ginee Seo, an editor at Simon & Schuster. Before this, using a pseudonym, she had written three books for 17th Street Press (a publisher of romances).

Her first novel, A Great and Terrible Beauty became a New York Times bestseller. In November 2006, a video promoting the book was a part of The Book Standard's Teen Book Video Awards.  She wrote two more books to finish the trilogy she had started with her first book: Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing.

Libba is friends with many young adult authors including Maureen Johnson. She is also good friends with fellow YA fantasy authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare; all of them are represented by Bray's husband, a literary agent.

Going Bovine, her fourth YA novel, came out in 2009. It is a dark comedy about a 16 year old boy named Cameron who has mad cow disease and a 16-year-old dwarf named Gonzo whom he met in the hospital. Gonzo is a video gamer who thinks that everything is trying to kill him. Cameron has visitation from a punkish angel named Dulcie who has a propensity for spray-painting her wings. They are all on a mission to cure Cameron's mad cow disease. The novel received the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature.

In 2011, Bray published Beauty Queens, a story about a group of beauty pageant contestants whose plane crashes on an island. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
[Bray]manages to turn a hopeless situation into a hilarious and hallucinatory quest, featuring an asthmatic teenage dwarf, Gonzo; a pink-haired angel in combat boots, Dulcie; and Balder, a Norse god who is cursed with the form of a garden gnome…Libba Bray not only breaks the mold of the ubiquitous dying-teenager genre—she smashes it and grinds the tiny pieces into the sidewalk. For the record, I'd go anywhere she wanted to take me.
Lisa Von Drasek - New York Times


Cameron Smith, 16, is slumming through high school, overshadowed by a sister “pre-majoring in perfection,” while working (ineptly) at the Buddha Burger. Then something happens to make him the focus of his family's attention: he contracts mad cow disease. What takes place after he is hospitalized is either that a gorgeous angel persuades him to search for a cure that will also save the world, or that he has a vivid hallucination brought on by the disease. Either way, what readers have is an absurdist comedy in which Cameron, Gonzo (a neurotic dwarf) and Balder (a Norse god cursed to appear as a yard gnome) go on a quixotic road trip during which they learn about string theory, wormholes and true love en route to Disney World. Bray's surreal humor may surprise fans of her historical fantasies about Gemma Doyle, as she trains her satirical eye on modern education, American materialism and religious cults (the smoothie-drinking members of the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack 'N' Bowl). Offer this to fans of Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy seeking more inspired lunacy. Ages 14–up.
Publishers Weekly


(Grade 8+)—In this ambitious novel, Cameron, a 16-year-old slacker whose somewhat dysfunctional family has just about given up on him, as perhaps he himself has, when his diagnosis of Creutzfeldt-Jacob, "mad cow" disease, reunites them, if too late. The heart of the story, though, is a hallucinatory—or is it?—quest with many parallels to the hopeless but inspirational efforts of Don Quixote, about whom Cameron had been reading before his illness. Just like the crazy—or was he?—Spaniard, Cam is motivated to go on a journey by a sort of Dulcinea. His pink-haired, white-winged version goes by Dulcie and leads him to take up arms against the Dark Wizard and fire giants that attack him intermittently, and to find a missing Dr. X, who can both help save the world and cure him. Cameron's Sancho is a Mexican-American dwarf, game-master hypochondriac he met in the pot smokers' bathroom at school who later turns up as his hospital roommate. Bray blends in a hearty dose of satire on the road trip as Cameron leaves his Texas deathbed—or does he?—to battle evil forces with a legendary jazz horn player, to escape the evil clutches of a happiness cult, to experiment with cloistered scientists trying to solve the mysteries of the universe, and to save a yard gnome embodying a Viking god from the clutches of the materialistic, fame-obsessed MTV-culture clones who shun individual thought. 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. —Suzanne Gordon, Peachtree Ridge High School, Suwanee, GA
Library Journal


Bray offers a novel about a road trip undertaken by surly Cameron, a 16-year-old mad cow-disease sufferer, Gonzo, his hypochondriac dwarf hospital roommate, and a sentient garden gnome who is actually the Norse god Balder. This decidedly fantastical premise mixes with armchair physics and time-travel theory as they make their way from Texas to Florida. Or possibly Cameron is just hallucinating.....
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Going Bovine:

1. What did you think of Cameron Smith, initially? Do your views of him change over the course of the novel? If so, do they change because you get to know him better...or because he has changed?

2. At the beginning, Cameron describes himself as slacker: "I’m a drifter—right downstream and over the falls with the rest of the driftwood.” Is that an apt description of him? Is there another metaphor you could use? Why is he the way he is? What has caused his alienation? Is he typical of today's youth?

3. Did you believe Cameron was hallucinating the road trip? Or did you read the novel as fantasy, like J.R.R. Tolkein? Which were you hoping for—or expecting—realism or fantasy?

4. Are Gonzo, Dulci, and Balder appealing characters? Do you come to feel affection for them? Do you have a particular favorite?

5. Did you catch the Don Quixote references throughout the novel? Why might Bray have chosen Quixote as a pattern on which to base her novel?

6. Is Going Bovine depressing? Why would anyone want to read about a dying teenager (see The Fault in Our Stars, for one)? Does Bray hold your interest—if so, how does she do it?

7. Is the book funny? Does Bray make you laugh? If so, is she treating a tragic subject too lightly? Is her approach disrespectful or cynical? Why would an author choose to use humor in this kind of novel?

8. Cameron comes to realize that "It's not all sand castles and ninjas." What does his statement mean in the larger scope of things?

9. Ultimately, what does Cameron learn by the end of the novel—how has he changed? And what, by the end, have you learned? Has this novel enlarged your own view of life? What are the large questions explored in this book?

10. Do you agree with the statement that "There is no meaning but what we assign. We create our own reality"? Is that true...or is our life's meaning determined by a higher reality?

11. Was the novel's ending satisfying to you? Can you explain how—or where—Cameron and Dulcie end up?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Marjane Satrapi, 2003
Knopf Doubleday
160 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780375714573


Summary
Originally published to wide critical acclaim in France, where it elicited comparisons to Art Spiegelman's Maus, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran: of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life and of the enormous toll repressive regimes exact on the individual spirit. Marjane's child's-eye-view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family.

Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a stunning reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, through laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—November 22, 1969
Where—Rasht, Iran
Rasied—Tehran, Iran
Education—M.A., Tehran Islamic Azad University
Awards—Angloueme Coup de Couer for Persepolis 1 & 2;
   Cinema for Peace, Most Valuable Movie of the Year;
   Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize
Currently—lives in Paris, France


Satrapi grew up in Tehran in a family which was involved with the communist and socialist movements in Iran, prior to the Iranian Revolution. She attended the Lycée Français there and witnessed, as a child, the growing suppression of civil liberties and the everyday-life consequences of Iranian politics, including the fall of the Shah, the early regime of Ruhollah Khomeini, and the first years of the Iran-Iraq war.

Satrapi is a great-granddaughter of Nasser al-Din Shah, Shah of Persia from 1848 until 1896. However, Satrapi points out that "the kings of the Qajar Turkish dynasty...had hundreds of wives. They made thousands of kids. If you multiply these kids by generation you have, I don't know, ten to fifteen thousand princes and princesses. There's nothing extremely special about that."

In 1983, at the age of 14, Satrapi was sent to Vienna, Austria, by her parents in order to flee the Iranian regime. According to her autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis, she lived there during her high school years, returning to Iran for college. At college, she met a man named Reza, whom she married at age 21 and divorced roughly three years later.

She then studied Visual Communication, eventually obtaining a Master's Degree in Visual Communication from the School of Fine Arts in Tehran Islamic Azad University. Satrapi then moved to Strasbourg, France. She currently lives in Paris, where she works as an illustrator and an author of children's books. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
Satrapi's drawing style is bold and vivid. She paints a thick inky black-on-white, in a faux-naif pastiche of East and West. Persepolis deploys all the paranoid Expressionism latent in the comic strip's juxtapositions of scale—the child dwarfed by looming parents, would-be rescuers dwarfed by giant policemen guarding the locked doors to a movie theater that's been set on fire—but when Satrapi depicts a schoolyard brawl, it's straight from Persian miniature. Persepolis was first published to enormous success in Satrapi's adopted France, where adult comic books are a long-favored form. The English edition comes with an introduction expressing the author's desire to show Americans that Iran is not only a country of fanatics and terrorists. The book could hardly have come at a better moment.
Fernanda Eberstadt - New York Times Book Review


The simple lines and shapes of Satrapi's drawings lend poignancy to the story. The fact that she is able to portray such a vast range of emotions with a few simple strokes of a pen is impressive. That she does this consistently for 153 pages is a mighty achievement.
Christopher Theokas - USA Today


Marjane Satrapi was nine years old when the Islamic Revolution reintroduced a religious state in Iran. Her life changed dramatically under the new regime. It became obligatory for her to wear the veil, her previously co-ed school was divided into separate schools for boys and girls, and fear began to rule her world whenever she was outside of her home. The only child of outspoken revolutionaries, Marjane found it nearly impossible to comply with the demands that were made by the new government. Her resultant disobedient and eventual violent behavior put her family in danger, and she was sent to live in Europe at the age of 14. Persepolis is an absolutely breathtaking memoir. The b/w illustrations are simple but they eloquently convey Marjane's perceptions and memories of her childhood in Iran. Satrapi's writing style is straightforward, and the story is told in a way that is easily accessible. Although terrorism and war form the basis of Marjane's childhood experience, we learn through her story that the actions of a few extremists do not reflect the attitude of an entire nation. This is presented in a nontraditional format (similar to Maus, by Art Spiegelman); however, its curricular advantages should not be overlooked. It gives the people of Iran a face and a voice through their spokeswoman, Marjane Satrapi, and the humanization of a people who often appear far away and different is a benefit not to be ignored. (An ALA Best Book for Young Adults.) Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults.
Heather Lisowski - KLIATT


Satrapi's cursive, geometrical drawing style, reminiscent of the great children's author-artist Wanda Gag's, eloquently conveys her ingenuousness and fervor as a child. —Ray Olson
Booklist   


Satrapi's autobiography is a timely and timeless story of a young girl's life under the Islamic Revolution. Descended from the last Emperor of Iran, Satrapi is nine when fundamentalist rebels overthrow the Shah. While Satrapi's radical parents and their community initially welcome the ouster, they soon learn a new brand of totalitarianism is taking over. Satrapi's art is minimal and stark yet often charming and humorous as it depicts the madness around her. She idolizes those who were imprisoned by the Shah, fascinated by their tales of torture, and bonds with her Uncle Anoosh, only to see the new regime imprison and eventually kill him. Thanks to the Iran-Iraq war, neighbors' homes are bombed, playmates are killed and parties are forbidden. Satrapi's parents, who once lived in luxury despite their politics, struggle to educate their daughter. Her father briefly considers fleeing to America, only to realize the price would be too great. "I can become a taxi driver and you a cleaning lady?" he asks his wife. Iron Maiden, Nikes and Michael Jackson become precious symbols of freedom, and eventually Satrapi's rebellious streak puts her in danger, as even educated women are threatened with beatings for improper attire. Despite the grimness, Satrapi never lapses into sensationalism or sentimentality. Skillfully presenting a child's view of war and her own shifting ideals, she also shows quotidian life in Tehran and her family's pride and love for their country despite the tumultuous times. Powerfully understated, this work joins other memoirs—Spiegelman's Maus and Sacco's Safe Area Goradze—that use comics to make the unthinkable familiar.
Publishers Weekly


Marji tells of her life in Iran from the age of 10, when the Islamic revolution of 1979 reintroduced a religious state, through the age of 14 when the Iran-Iraq war forced her parents to send her to Europe for safety. This story, told in graphic format with simple, but expressive, black-and-white illustrations, combines the normal rebelliousness of an intelligent adolescent with the horrors of war and totalitarianism. Marji's parents, especially her freethinking mother, modeled a strong belief in freedom and equality, while her French education gave her a strong faith in God. Her Marxist-inclined family initially favored the overthrow of the Shah, but soon realized that the new regime was more restrictive and unfair than the last. The girl's independence, which made her parents both proud and fearful, caused them to send her to Austria. With bold lines and deceptively uncomplicated scenes, Satrapi conveys her story. From it, teens will learn much of the history of this important area and will identify with young Marji and her friends. This is a graphic novel of immense power and importance for Westerners of all ages. It will speak to the same audience as Art Spiegelman's Maus (1993). —Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA
Library Journal



Discussion Questions
1. The New York Times hails Persepolis as “the latest and one of the most delectable examples of a booming postmodern genre: autobiography by comic book.” Why do you think this genre is so popular? Why did Satrapi chose this format in which to tell her story? What does the visual aspect add that a conventional memoir lacks? Have you read other graphic memoirs, such as Maus by Art Spiegelman or Joe Sacco’s Palestine? How is Persepolis different and/or similar to those? How does Persepolis compare to other comic books? Would you call this a comic book, or does it transcend this and other categories? Where would you place this book in a bookstore? With memoirs, comic books, current events?

2. Written as a memoir, is Persepolis more powerful than if Satrapi had fictionalized the story? Why or why not? Compare this book to other memoirs you have read. What are the benefits and drawbacks of memoirs?

3. In an Associated Press interview, Satrapi said, “The only thing I hope is that people will read my book and see that this abstract thing, this Axis of Evil, is made up of individuals with lives and hopes.” And in her introduction to Persepolis, she explains that she wrote this book to show that Iran is not only a country of “fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism.” How does Satrapi go about challenging this myth? How does Persepolis dispel or confirm your views on Iran? In what ways does reading this book deepen your understanding and knowledge of Iran, and the current situation in Iraq?

4. How is Persepolis organized and structured? What has Satrapi chosen to emphasize in her childhood? How is the passage of time presented? Describe Satrapi’s drawings. How do the drawings add to the narrative of the story?

5. Describe the writer’s voice. Is it appealing? Which aspects of Marji’s character do you identify with or like the most, the least? Did your reaction to the little girl affect your reading experience?

6. How did the revolution exert power and influence over so many people, including many educated and middle class people like Satrapi’s parents? Why did so many people leave after the revolution? Why do you think Marji’s parents send her off to Austria while they stay in Tehran? Why don’t they leave/escape as well?

7. “Every situation has an opportunity for laughs.” (p. 97) Give some examples of how the ordinary citizens of Iran enjoyed life despite the oppressive regime. What made you laugh? How does Satrapi add comic relief? How are these scenes relevant to the story as a whole?

8. What kinds of captivity and freedom does the author explore in Persepolis? What stifles or prevents people from being completely free? How do they circumvent and defy the rules imposed on them and attempt to live ordinary lives despite revolution and war? Give some examples of their small acts of rebellion.

9. “In spite of everything, kids were trying to look hip, even under risk of arrest.” (p. 112) How did they do this? What do you think you would have done had you been a child in this environment? What acts of rebellion did you do as a teen? In way ways is Satrapi just a normal kid?

10. What does Satrapi say regarding disparity between the classes before and after the Iranian Revolution? Discuss some examples that Marji witnesses and contemplates.

11. At the core of the book is Marji’s family. What is this family like? What is important to Marji’s parents? What environment do they create for their daughter despite living under an oppressive regime and through a brutal, prolonged war? From where do they get their strength?

12. What is the role of women in the story? Compare and contrast the various women: Marji, her mother, her grandmother, her school teachers, the maid, the neighbors, the guardians of the revolution.

13. Discuss the role and importance of religion in Persepolis. How does religion define certain characters in the book, and affect the way they interact with each other? Is the author making a social commentary on religion, and in particular on fundamentalism? What do you think Satrapi is saying about religion’s effect on the individual and society?

14. In what ways is Persepolis both telling a story and commenting on the importance of stories in our lives? What does the book suggest about how stories shape and give meaning to our experience? Discuss some of the stories in Persepolis—Uncle Anoosh’s story, her grandfather’s story, Niloufar’s story.

15. What is Satrapi suggesting about the relationship between past and present, and between national and personal history? What role does her family history, and the stories of her relatives, play in shaping Marji?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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