Monday, July 5, 2010

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Cameron Smith was an average 16-year-old boy, maybe a little below-average. He spent his days smoking pot and playing video games, the textbook definition of slacker. Then he sees the fire giants and the giant armor-clad man. Then he loses control of his limbs. Then he gets diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakobs disease, more commonly known as the human form of mad cow disease.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob is an untreatable disease. There are prions in the brain that go bad and reproduce to create more bad prions. These bad prions take over and eventually destroy the brain. So not only is Cameron dying young, he will lose all his mental functions along the way. Adding to the tragedy, because of his slacker ways, Cameron has never really spent any time living.

One night, he is visited by a pink-haired punk rock angel named Dulcie. She sends him on a mission to save the world. A scientist named Dr. X has mastered the ability to travel through time and space. When he returned to regular time, he brought dark energy with him. This energy threatens to expand and destroy the world, and it is causing Cameron's disease, which is why the doctors can't help him. If he finds Dr. X and closes the wormhole, he will not only save the world but also cure himself.

It seems like an easy mission, but Dr. X could be anywhere. All Dulcie will tell Cameron is that he has to look out for signs and random coincidences. Also, he has to bring a partner. Gonzo is a hypochondriac gamer dwarf. Together, they travel around, mostly following actual road signs ("Follow the feather" on a bus ad) or advice from people along the way.

Among the duo's adventures are meeting dead jazz legend Junior Webster and visiting creepy cult-like CESSNAB (Church of Eternal Satisfaction and Snack N' Bowl). They pick up Balder, a lawn gnome who is actually an indestructible Norse god. Near the end, they even visit the YA!TV beach house for the real spring break experience and actually become minor celebrities.

They are being followed by the Wizard of Reckoning, the large armored man from the beginning, and his fire giants. The fire giants leave behind destruction every time they catch up. Because of the destruction, Cameron and Gonzo are being pursued by United Snowglobe Wholesalers as terrorists. Snowglobe retailers have deep roots in all markets and cities, and they are a lot tougher than you would expect.

One of the things I love in a book is symmetry. I like to read something and realize that it was mentioned at a different point or that it has some significance that I just realized. Going Bovine had lots of symmetry, the stoned friends mentioning Schrodinger's cat to the scientists at Putopia actually naming their test cat Schrodinger. Also, Cameron starts the story with a family trip to Disney World when he was 5, he gets a Disney eticket bracelet to stave off his mad cow symptoms, and everything ends with a showdown at Disney World. The road trip adventure is lots of fun, though the moments when Cameron wakes up in the hospital are a little bit of a bummer.

On a slightly unrelated note, I was trying to picture Cameron in my head and came up with the image of a young John Cusack. I decided that he would be great in the movie version of this book if he wasn't so old. Then I made up plans to clone John Cusacks to star in all teen movies.

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