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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review: GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray

YA fiction
Delacorte Press, 2009
480 pages  $17.99

Oh, readers and writers, wouldn't we all love to be as clever as Libba Bray? How about we all just sit down at our desks and hammer out original, smart, wacky, poignant, lovely stories? She makes it look so easy, I'm tempted to think that I too could do it.

Her 2009 novel Going Bovine begins with a pretty out-there premise: A 16-year-old hero who is a bit lazy, uninterested in his own life, and unmotivated to do much of anything, suddenly finds out he's got no time to waste. He's got mad cow disease, and his only chance of curing it (and, oh yeah, saving the world) involves going on a complicated quest accompanied by an impromptu dwarf sidekick, a punk-rock angel, and a yard gnome/Norse god.

Oh, sorry--did you already come up with that plot? Chuck it. You won't write it as well as Bray did. It's hard to know what to say about this tale, beyond listing its many endearing qualities: funny as hell, unexpected, fantastically imagined. And it's just as important to note what it's not: overwrought, sentimental, preachy. The internal journey of our heroes is as important as their cross-country trek, and yet somehow we don't feel like we're being told anything--we readers are just along for Libba Bray's crazy funhouse ride. And then just when you've settled back and are thinking this is nothing more than a kind of goofy frathouse-type prank, some little truth manages to bite you in the butt. This book is a little bit Douglas Adams, kind of like Don Quixote, and sort of similar to nothing else you've read. Yes, it's marketed as a young adult title, but it's so much more than that. It's science mixed with fantasy mixed with that always-terrifying real world we all try to escape from.

So read it already. Four stars.