Going Bovine (Bray)

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

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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