Genre: Young Adult Fiction.
Audience: 10th-12th grade.
Read-Alouds: Read-aloud one goes with the theme of friendship. Cameron is not popular. The only people he is friends with at school are the stoners.
Read-aloud two shows Cameron’s father and how his father is dealing with the news. This read aloud demonstrates the difficulty his family is having with the diagnosis.
Summary: Going Bovine, written by Libba Bray, is a novel about Cameron Smith, who is an outcast in high school. In the beginning of the novel, Cameron starts hallucinating and acting out in class. He discovers he has mad cow disease. After being diagnosed, Cameron sets out on an adventure with creatures only he can see to cure himself. They must find Dr. X and stop the leakage of dark matter to save the world and himself. This novel questions what is real.
Themes: One of the themes in this novel is the treatment of a person who is told they are about to die. Cameron’s family is falling apart. His mother and father are constantly working. His sister tries to be perfect to balance their tense family situation. Cameron notes his family communicates through post-it-notes. Once Cameron is diagnosed, his family pays more attention to Cameron. Cameron does not react well and thinks it is bogus. The student body at his high school also treat Cameron differently. Cameron’s few ‘friends’ were stoners. Once the school heard he had Mad Cow Disease, the school had an assembly in Cameron’s honor. They even went as far to declare February 20 as Cameron Smith Day. The popular kids, like CJ and Staci, who normally disliked Cameron are saying they will miss him. Cameron is pissed it took him dying for people to think he matters.
Another theme is reality versus dreams. Cameron has difficulty determining if he is dreaming, hallucinating, or if something is real. Cameron smokes pot. During the first hallucinations, he thinks he just had bad pot. Then, even when he has not smoked pot, he would see things he could not explain such as tentacles on the toaster and an angel. He would question if they are real. Since Cameron is the narrator, he is unreliable. When he goes on his journey for the cure, the reader is unsure if all of this is happening or if he is hallucinating. Thus, the reader does not know either.
Connections: This book could be paired with other books about different types of illnesses or mental disabilities. One could pair this novel with a classic novel such as Of Mice and Men and talk about how society views any type of ‘illness.’ This unit would bring awareness to the topic. This novel can also be paired with poems about death. A Poison Tree by William Blake, O Captain My Captain by Walt Whitman, and Tears, Idle Tears by Alfred Lord Tennyson would be paired nicely with this book. If one did not want to teach this novel due to the mention of drugs, sex, and profanity, a chapter can be selected and examined. This novel uses a lot of figurative language and unique characterization that can help support another main text.
Reactions: I really enjoyed this novel. Even though it is an emotional text since the main character is dying, the tone of the piece lifts the mood. The main character uses humor in his speech. From the first page, the novel is engaging. Another thing I really liked was the realistic use of word choice. Bray uses text lingo like WTF. This made the novel more accessible. Like stated in the connections section, the characters were described uniquely. I would suggest this novel to anyone who can handle this subject matter!
Reception: Lisa Von Drasek, from The New York Times, states “Libba Bray not only breaks the mold of the ubiquitous dying-teenager genre — she smashes it and grinds the tiny pieces into the sidewalk.” Bray writes a unique novel that deals with teenage death.
A reader on Amazon.com states “The lack of concrete plot and concrete rules just got to me and kept me from enjoying this book. It has some funny lines and the dialogue between characters is funny, but it was all sugar and no substance.” This person did not like the question of what is real. They thought it was not real from the start of the novel since dreams and hallucinations are not reality.