Going Bovine by Libba Bray follows 16-year-old Cameron on a quest to save his life...and the universe. A classic bildungsroman with a slight twist, Cameron's cross-country road trip leads him on a random, life-changing adventure where he meets ridiculous and eccentric characters and learns how valuable his life really is.
Going Bovine closely examines the need to live life and not sit back and watch it pass; consequently, simply reading Bray's novel is an adventure in and of itself. Written in teenage vernacular on speed, the intensity of her word choice plays a role in the novel to the point of distraction. I loved the way that she played with words and turns-of-phrase, but it got to the point where it actually distracted and annoyed me instead of enhancing the story. It didn't lend credibility to the characters as much as it made them seem cheeky and fake. I don't know a single sixteen-year-old boy who talks the way that Cameron narrates the novel and it really took me out of the story. As I read, I wondered about Libba Bray herself -- the overdose of hyperactive teenage vocabulary all mashed on one page made me think that she was nervous to be writing a non-girly young adult novel. I've never read her other writing and I don't know anything about her as an author, but I just do not think that the writing should take a reader out of the story itself...it leads to distraction, which leads to boredom, which is where I found myself after the first few hundred pages.
In part due to the writing, then, I found Cameron and his gang of mismatched cohorts somewhat obnoxious and typecast. In direct contrast to the way that Airborn's characters overshadowed the action of the novel, Going Bovine's characters get overwhelmed by their adventure. The events in the story captured me more than the characters themselves actually did. Cameron is cheeky and irreverent in the beginning of the story and, to a large degree, he remains the same way in the end. He has developed a more empathetic, loving view of those around him, which I found positive, but overall his dialogue and crazy antics distracted me from any deep attachment to his character. Similarly, Gonzo and Dulcie, his two best friends, seemed very much like archetypes of what the author thought the main character should need rather than what the story required. They both develop a slight amount of depth in the end, but, by and large, it seemed trivial -- it's brought in too late to add much to the story and one's opinions of their characters are basically set by that point. It was somewhat frustrating, because I really wanted to connect with the protagonists, but they just seemed shallow on the page.
What I loved about this novel is the way that it examined the value of life. I think that its speed and frenetic pacing will appeal to an audience weened on video games and instant gratification, and it is precisely this demographic that needs to hear the message of Going Bovine -- life is all around you. You must live the richest, fullest existence you can, because otherwise you're wasting the very finite amount of time allotted to you. Such a message is especially poignant today and I love what Bovine attempts to do in its story.
Though clumsy in its delivery, as if trying to do too much at once, Bovine has a beautiful heart, one that needs to be shared. I did not love this book, but I think that it is an important addition to young adult libraries. Its structure and highly stylized delivery embraces a new, fresh approach that many young readers will not be familiar with and the heart of the story is an important reminder for people everywhere. While it wouldn't necessarily be my first recommendation to a friend, I think that it is a stronger book than a number of the other ones that I have read.