Wednesday, December 1, 2010
To Fight the Unbeatable Foe
by Libba Bray
Michael L. Printz Award 2010
Although the protagonist, Cameron Smith, doesn't learn he has Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease until a decent number of chapters into the book, all one has to do is read the book jacket to know the kid has mad cow disease and is going to die. But, rather than making this novel into a melodramatic movie-of-the-week tearjerker, Libba Bray does something a bit unexpected and writes of all of life's small pleasures. By giving Cameron a quest to find Dr. X and a possible cure, she grants him the ability to forget that he is dying, if only for a little while, and enjoy what life has to offer. Although many hints are given that the entire journey is only playing out in Cameron's imagination, of course, this makes for a much more entertaining read than a novel with some kid wallowing in a hospital bed.
While I couldn't really identify with Cameron's slacker persona, Bray's witty writing, bursting with pop cultural references, was hugely entertaining. What I enjoyed most, though, was probably the linking of Cameron's quest to that of Don Quixote. At the beginning of the novel, Cameron's English class is assigned to read the classic work, and though Cameron never completes it, numerous parallels between Cervantes' novel and our hero's adventure are apparent. There are obvious similarities, such as naming Cameron's guardian angel Dulcie and purchasing a Cadillac Rocinante, and the narrative style, which consists of short, farcical episodes with sundry characters Cameron meets along his travels is reminiscent of Quixote. The two differ in one major aspect, however, and that is how the authors choose to end the story. While I hate to spoil the conclusion for those who might choose to read Going Bovine, let me say that it is not the bitter conclusion of Cervantes' novel, but something much more uplifting.
One of the quotes on the back cover suggests that this book will be one that people take to college in the hopes that others will have read it and been affected by it, as well. I definitely agree with this idea. Going Bovine should become this generation's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. A book that speaks to us about the trials and tribulations of becoming an adult, but also the many joys experienced on that journey. As Cameron says, "To live is to love, to love is to live," and I could not agree more.