Contemporary · Fiction · review · YA

Going Bovine – Libba Bray


Can Cameron find what he’s looking for?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.



When I finished this book and turned the last page, a maelstrom of emotions infused me. Libba Bray is a fantastic author. Anyone who has read her blog and her books will attest to that. This book, however, in my opinion, elevated her from being just a fantastic author (which in itself is a great achievement) to an author who is attuned to the space beneath the words she is writing, to the story that isn’t told in black words on paper.

Before I begin my review in the conventional sense of the word, I’d like to point out that I’m aware that Going Bovine is not everyone’s cup of tea (bowl of cereal?) and not everyone will like it. That’s understandable. I, however, love eccentric things, quirkiness and things which are just a bit (or really, who am I kidding? totally) surreal.

For these reasons, I was looking forward to reading the book. The fact that it was from a male point of view did give me initial pause but then I continued reading and got swept up in the flow of the story. Firstly and I know this will sound really ironic, Going Bovine is a realistic look at the way a dysfunctional family functions (for lack of a better word). It is in the non-relationship that Cameron has with his parents and his sister, it’s in his apathy to life and it is the way in which the absence of things is made acute by the things that are present.

So the story, if you want the general gist of it, is about this 16 or so guy who, all of a sudden, finds that he has the disease which in cows is commonly known as Mad Cow Disease. He has the human equivalent of it. As he is lying immobile in a hospital bed, he is given a mission to save the world by an angel who paints her wings to express her moods. The mission involves a dwarf, a gnome and several experiences that you will need to read to find out about. Oh and yes, this mission might or might not be a hallucination.

This is a story about a guy dying, okay? It’s heavy stuff and if you have read any Lurlene McDaniel you will know that books about people dying can be pretty darned depressing. But Going Bovine is more than just about a guy dying. It’s a book about finding out what is to live. Finding out that it is okay to love your parents and feel the way you do and ask the questions you want answered. The juxtaposition of life and death is so well done that even if you suspect, in some corner of your mind, that this is all occurring in Cameron’s mind, you won’t care. The journey is, in the tradition of heroic journeys, tumultuous. Yeah sure, surreal events and even more surreal characters season Bray’s narrative, but they all come together to form a cohesive story that will probably leave a sort of ache in your heart at the end of the book.

I love the voice of the narrator – Cameron. You don’t like him all the time and he’s pretty darned difficult to understand most of the time but his irreverence and his vulnerability will pierce even the most cynical reader. I found it a bit difficult to get used to him in the beginning but by the end of the novel, I was totally charmed. There’s an honesty about him that you can’t help but react to. That subsumes the whole “omg-I’m-going-to-die-soon.”

As I said before, and I shall reiterate again, the book is wonderfully written.

I think more people should read this. Take some time out of vampires, angels and whatever supernatural flavour of the month and just read this. If nothing else, it will make you think of how you are living and how you are not.


2 thoughts on “Going Bovine – Libba Bray

  1. I’ve always overlooked this book. I pass it, see the interesting cover, and move on. But your review has made me want to pick it up the next time I see it. So I think I will.


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