Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Going Bovine

When this book won the Printz Award (like the Newbery but for Young Adult award, the highest one the American Library Association gives for teen literature), I was sitting behind the author's husband. He was so excited, and called his wife. Very sweet. Thus I was excited to go home and read this book.

Book: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Vital Stats: Published in 2009 by Delacorte Press, 480 pages
Awards: Printz Award
Marketed Toward: Teens (probably 14+)
The Quick and the Short of It: I wish I could recommend this, but I really can't. It's brilliantly written and engaging, but there are just too many issues.

Book Synopsis
Underachieving 16 year-old Cameron is skating through school, a minimum wage job flipping burgers, and spending a lot of time smoking marijuana. He has distant parents, an overachieving sister, and few friends. Then he starts hallucinating. At first he and everyone else assume it is drug related. However it is soon revealed to be mad cow disease. As he lays dying in a hospital room, he gets a classmate for a roommate, a little person (what used to be called dwarf or midget) named Gonzo. Cameron is recruited by a punk rock angel named Dulcie to save the world and in doing so perhaps himself. Enlisting Gonzo as a sidekick, they set off on a cross country road trip where they join spring break parties, Mardi Gras, cults, fight fire monsters, do more drugs, add a talking gnome who claims to be a viking god to their merry band, and in general have incredible assorted adventures.

My Take
As I said in the intro, this is a extremely well written book. My coworkers all loved it. It was engaging (though I did feel it went on a little bit too long, I had to force myself through the last 70 pages), original, funny, and touching. If you asked me to name four other books like it, I'd be hard pressed to name even two. The Printz Award is supposed to go for excellence and this is excellence by worldly standards. And unlike other award winners, it will appeal to the target audience. It's a good, possibly brilliant, book and I wish I could recommend it.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
I should have kept a list as I was going because I'm going to miss some issues. We'll start with the drug use, specifically marijuana. This is the third teen book I've read in a row where marijuana use is treated very casually. Did I miss the part where it was legalized? Talking with a coworker, she didn't think it "was that big of a deal". But to me it is still a big deal and the increasingly casual way our society treats marijuana use signals a change in attitude. There is legislation to legalize marijuana in California as I write this, but for now the practice is being normalized in literature.

Cameron also graphically lusts after one of his classmates; there are other sexual activities described and speculated upon, underage drinking, etc. Some questionable language as well. It might be a fairly graphic and accurate look at the world of many teenage books. The question is if you want to read a book that reflects life as many teens live it in the world, or if you want to aim for something higher. There is an argument to be made about knowing enough of popular culture to communicate with the rest of the world, but we also have a responsibility to focus on that which is higher. It might help to reach the right kid in the right situation, but it would have to be done very carefully. And there are quite a few theological issues dealing with the portrayal of angels and the end of the life and afterlife. That is to be expected in a non-Christian book.

Therefore it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. -Romans 13:5


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