Going Bovine by Libba Bray

I wasn’t sure I was going to write this one up because it’s probably not something my readers are going to be interested in, and it’s not the normal type of book I read, but after a little bit of a rocky beginning, I ended up enjoying it and wanted to put my positive review out there.

This book is a little bit hard to describe. It’s about Cameron Smith, a sixteen-year-old high school student with little interest in, well, anything. When he finds out he has mad cow disease, an angel (with pink hair and torn fishnets) informs him that what’s causing his brain problems is actually dark matter left from a wormhole created by Dr. X. (I know, but stick with me here.) And that he needs to save the world. Cameron travels to New Orleans and then Florida trying to find Dr. X (and save the world). Keeping him company are a dwarf named Gonzo and a garden gnome who is actually a Norse god. As Cameron travels, he encounters physicists, snow globes, happiness gurus, and spring break parties. The entire adventure helps him gain perspective on his family, his life, and what is really important. Of course, Cameron does have mad cow disease. Is this all really happening, or is it just in his head? And does that even matter? If none of that makes sense, it might also help if I mention that Don Quixote is referenced more than once.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked Cameron, and it was slow going. But I think that I wasn’t supposed to like him. I am not sure Cameron likes himself very much, either. As he travels along, he becomes a person who is easier to root for, a person who cares about other people and who has something to live for. And as the story continued, I found other things to like as well, especially Balder the Norse god/garden gnome. He was an inspired character. I have left out so many things – the Wizard of Reckoning, going behind-the-scenes of reality television, the fire giants, and Disney World. This book has a lot of things going on.

Close to the end of the book, a band called Copenhagen Interpretation says the following thing at a concert:

In our travels, we have come across many equations–math for understanding the universe, for making music, for mapping stars, and also for tipping, which is important. Here is our favorite equation: Us plus Them equals All of Us. It is very simple math. Try it sometime. You probably won’t even need a pencil . . . We know. These are hard times. The world hurts. We live in fear and forget to walk with hope. But hope has not forgotten you. So ask it to dinner. It’s probably hungry and would appreciate the invitation.”

That’s probably as good an example as any of the tone of this book – passionate, absurd, and hopeful. I think I’d give it to high schoolers who have already read and enjoyed Douglas Adams. That’s the closest comparison I can think of, and I think that I would have liked it in high school. I am so glad I finished it, because, even though I wasn’t sure about him at first, it turns out that journeying with Cameron is a trip worth taking.

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