Bray, L. (2009). Going Bovine. New York: Random House Children's Books.
Cameron, a teenage boy who is distant from his sister, parents, and lacks any close friends; has been hallucinating. He blames the visions on some bad marijuana, that is until the visions become worse and his health begins to deteriorate. Eventually, Cameron is diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (AKA Mad Cow). Aware of his impending decline and death, Cameron feels anger toward his classmates as he is hospitalized and given an experimental treatment.
Believing that fire demons that he sees during his hallucinations will bring on the apocalypse, Cameron is led by an angel with pink hair and combat boots to escape the hospital and go on a road trip with a classmate named Gonzo. They travel to many places, beginning with New Orleans, encountering Jazz Musicians, tourists, cult members, partying teens, a talking Norse gnome, etc.
Don't let this description fool you. Cameron's voice in Going Bovine is memorable, humorous and honest (which is pretty amazing to be able to say, since much of the book satirizes culture). The young adult novel is filled with great lines, fun twists, questionings of reality, culture and religion and plenty of quirky characters (too many quirky characters?). It addresses a lot of serious issues with lightness and even joy. It makes many intertextual references and parallels to Don Quixote, the works of Shakespeare, etc.
This book represents what I thought was a surprising and fun change from the supernatural and historical Gemma Doyle series that Bray had previously written.
While probably best for a book club or individual read, a teacher could encourage discussions about Mad Cow disease, physics, reality, death, and on and on and ON.
One of the key questions students could focus on while reading would be whether they believe what Cameron is experiencing is reality, a dream, some combination, and whether that matters as long as Cameron believes the events to be real. And on that note, this book is begging to be paired with Don Quixote.
In terms of reflection, students could write about their own childhood experiences at theme parks or other childhood events that have helped to shape their lives thus far.
Quotes of Note:
"The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World.
I'm sixteen now, so you can imagine that's left me with quite a few days of major suckage" (p. 1).
"Maybe you don't have a daddy at home. Maybe you do. But here at the Buddha Burger, I like to think of us as family. You know what that means?"
There's yet another place where I can feel awkward, resentful, and out of touch?" (p. 40).
"It's like the information is a big wave rushing over me, and I can only grab at certain words and phrases to hold me up. "Progressive muscle weakness," "uneven gait," "dementia and delusions," "four to six months," "hospital," "experimental treatments."
I don't hear anybody mention it's going to kill me. PRobably because no one actually comes right out and says it. In fact, Dr. Specialist does everything he can not to say it.
And that's when I know I must be in some deep shit" (p. 83).
"In a world like this one, only the random makes sense."
"Wait, I thought you just said everything's connected. How can it be both-"
"Randomly connected, connected very randomly," she says, examining Jenna's stuffed cat, Mr. Bubbles Kitty. "Cute. So soft. Cotton? Hey there, kitty. Do you think Cameron should go on this mission and save the world from complete destruction? Just nod for yes." She makes the cat nod" (pp. 118-119).
"You've been assigned an identity since birth. Then you spend the rest of your life walking around in it to see if it really fits. You try on all these different selves and abandon just as many. But really, it's about dismantling all that false armor, getting down to what's real" (p. 253-254).