Thursday, March 25, 2010

Three Viewpoint Thursday: Going Bovine

Another Three Viewpoint Thursday, where three of us at YA Lit Review sit down and chat about one book. This week, we read Going Bovine by Libba Bray (best-selling author of The Gemma Doyle Trilogy and winner of the 2010 Printz Award).

Cameron Smith, a high school slacker, is living a somewhat aimless life when he is diagnosed with Creutzfeld-Jakob variant BSE, popularly known as mad cow disease, for which there is no cure. When he is visited in the hospital by Dulcie, an punk angel with pink hair, who knows of a Dr. X who can cure him, Cameron and his roommate Gonzo, a neurotic video game-playing dwarf, set off on a quest that takes them from Texas to New Orleans and into Florida, all the while pursued by the Wizard of Reckoning and other enemies.

Renée: First, just from reading it myself, and from impressions I browsed on GoodReads, I get the feeling that GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray is a kind of polarizing novel. You either love it or hate it. What are your general impressions of the book?

Vilate: It was definitely difficult to get into. I'm not sure I'm on one end or the other, though. I didn't like it very much, but that was mainly because I found it tedious. I don't passionately feel anything about it enough to go with love or hate.

Alyson: I would agree with Renee. When I looked at GoodReads, I felt that people either loved it or disliked it. I felt that it was unfair to rate it just because I didn't "get" it. I feel like there are people who love that kind of humor and style. However, I never felt I connected with Cameron or the other characters and I just didn't really like the humor in this particular book.

Renée: Well, I admit that the first 100 pages were a real struggle. I agree with both of you that it was very difficult to get into. But once the characters' big "adventure" began, I got very wrapped up in it, and all the random details that annoyed me at the beginning started filling in pieces of the plot, and I ended up really enjoying it. But yes, Aly, I think it's one of those books that isn't going to be universally "gotten," with that offbeat style and dark humor.

Vilate: I felt like the writing style was Vonnegut-esque, but without the savvy. I also felt like I knew what was going to happen, so it made it that much more difficult to care about the main character. Dark humor, I understand, but a journey for no reason makes it hard to empathize and hard to connect.

Alyson: I agree that in some ways it was predictable. Cameron's disease is fatal, technically, and I guess I was hoping that the ending would be a little different. That the ending would make up for the rest of the story. Also, and this is just me... a journey that is filled with all this crazy living might have purpose if it is tied together in the end but that didn't seem to happen for me.

Renée: Personally, I think it is one of those (clichéd, as you mentioned) things where the journey is more important than the destination, but going back to Cameron. What were your opinions of him and the other main characters?

Vilate: I didn't dislike Cameron. I do feel like there was a change in him from beginning to end, although like Aly, I don't feel the journey was coherent enough with the ending to justify all the weirdness. I actually think that his change is kind of useless... But I did feel like his personality was realistic. And I liked Gonzo. I think that's what makes it difficult. Some of the characters and events that I liked might have been completely made up in Cameron's head. Gonzo was a great character.

Alyson: I didn't mind most of the characters - Gonzo, Balder, Dulcie. And Gonzo was a balance to Cameron for me. I think maybe the journey went on too long for me. I found myself wanting to skim pages. It wasn't holding my attention which was frustrating.

Renée: I agree. There were parts of the journey that moved slower than others, and I was just eager for things to pick up where we would get more "signs" or things from the past that start to make it all make sense. And for me, it didn't matter whether I was 100% sure if all the people and things that happened were "real," because they were real to Cameron, and they still made him feel things. I liked the mystery and ambiguity.

Renée: Did you all have a favorite character or favorite scene that stood out? Or was it mostly just more random stuff?

Vilate: It's hard to answer that one because of my feelings towards the book. Like I said, though, I did like Gonzo. He had real depth. I also did end up liking Dulcie, and the whole situation with the yard gnome was interesting.

Alyson: It just hit me. I think for me I would have preferred if Cameron had something non-fatal that caused the same effect... The idea of – “Was this a dream or some kind of reality? Or alternate reality? And in the end there was a purpose to it all and that it had an impact on his life”... Whew! So now that makes me feel a little better. LOL! As far as favorite characters... I think I liked the combination of Gonzo, and then Balder (gnome), and Dulcie (a punk angel) and the Wizard. I didn't really like Chet and some of the others at the school. And the whole snow globe "rescue" at the end was fun in a weird way.

Renée: I think we are all in agreement that the side characters - Gonzo, Dulcie, Balder - were really good. For me, I really liked when Gonzo and Cameron met those happiness fanatics with the smoothies & bowling. It was refreshing to see how silly constant happiness is, compared to the almost-constant self-pitying cynicism from Cameron with his disease. I think for me, this is when I started to "like" the book, and see some meaning emerge.

Vilate: I did like that part when taken out of context of the book as a whole. And it's funny, now that we're talking about it, I'm leaning more towards the 'hate it' side of the fence, lol. The happiness compound was interesting and well-done in and of itself. Probably the shining moment for me, in a book that tried way too hard to be unique and deep.

Alyson: Did anyone feel that the humor was too clichéd? Too many current day uses of language that can easily date the book? Just curious?!

Renée: I wondered about some of the slang... Phrases like "ridonculous" will probably fade from our language soon - if they haven't already. But, I agree with what Vi said earlier about how (despite how frustrating it became at points) Cameron and the others did sound like 16yr old boys. That is exactly how guys in high school who think they're too cool to care actually sound...

Vilate: I feel like a lot of it was made up slang, anyway. Some of it may date itself at some point, but one of the things that make this feel like Vonnegut is the use of made up slang, terminology and ideas/companies.

Alyson: I think you can make it feel like a 16 yr old boy talking and be careful with the slang. When I think of Libba Bray's Gemma from A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, she managed to speak like late 19 century English school girl but still had this snarky humor in her thoughts but it didn't have a "dated" sense.

Renée: I personally think this whole style of writing, with the overuse of slang, very conversational tone, "smart alec" vibe works well for male readers, particularly teenage boys. But I read an article that included GOING BOVINE on a list of top 10 teen books adults can enjoy (along with YA books with much heavier subject matter or more typical coming-of-age stories). Where do you think this book falls in terms of audience?

Vilate: I guess I can't imagine a boy picking this up on his own and enjoying it. Not that it goes over heads or anything, but the action is way too slow and random. Cameron, as a character, I think would appeal to teenage boys, but put in this story - no. As for adults, I feel like a 'literary fiction' crowd might get more use out of the book than teens will.

Alyson: I noticed on GoodReads that some of the teens that I know who read it marked it lower than the adults. I'm not saying that all teens wouldn't be interested in the book but it isn't an easy one to get into and it is hard sometimes to get boys into books as it is and this one might not be as Vi was enough or with enough action. But who am I to say. As for adults...I think some will love it and others will not.

Renée: I actually thought that teens might find the hi-jinks and randomness more entertaining, but adults might have more patience for it, so I guess I am on the fence.

Renée: I feel we covered a lot. Do you all have any final things to touch on about this book?

Vilate: Nothing for me. I do want to say that, despite not liking the book, I'm glad we were able to talk about it in this venue. I feel like it's important sometimes for anyone to read things they don't completely enjoy. I feel like this discussion has been a good one.

Alyson: I agree. I might never have ventured into the book if it wasn't for the discussion. And I do appreciate seeing other styles and how things are written. I think you can always learn from books - well most books. :) And it was fun to discuss it with everyone.

Renée: Basically reiterating what you all have said, I think we had a lot to say about this one since it wasn't as readily liked as the first two books we read together :)

Vilate: So thanks for another great discussion!

It was a very interesting chat – lots of opinions! – and we look forward to continuing with this! If you'd like to participate, please send an email to us at for more information.

Happy Reading!

-- Renée

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