Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Going Bovine

Cameron Smith was an apathetic, wallflower kind of kid in high school. He was a slacker, who was uninterested in college and smoked pot in the bathroom during school. He also has a perfect, perky sister that makes him look even worse by comparison. That is, until his uncontrollable movements and hallucinations are diagnosed as Creutzfeldt-Jakob diseases, AKA mad cow disease. This disease is a prion (mutated protein) that pretty much pokes holes in the brain. It's incurable and fatal. He is spurred by a cute punk rock angel named Dulcie to go on a quest to save the world (and find a cure to his disease) along with a hypochondriac dwarf named Gonzo and a Norse god turned lawn gnome named Balder. Along the way, Cameron battles evil with a legendary jazz musician in New Orleans, narrowly escapes from a crazy happiness cult, helps a group of scientists with an experiment, and goes to Disney World.

Libba Bray has created a crazy and unique retelling of Don Quixote. I actually didn't realize it was based on a specific novel until I read other reviews of it. I saw it as more of a modern version of the hero journey in mythology as illustrated by Joseph Campbell. Although the book is almost 500 pages long, I was completely sucked in and wanted to read it in one sitting. All of the characters were striking, original, and complete.

Cameron was initially not a very likable character. He was rude to his friends and family and was just generally selfish. From the initial diagnosis to the end of the novel, he undergoes a transformation with every person he meets and every crazy situation he encounters. He slowly turns into a true hero. He gains appreciation for music and develops close relationships with the people around him. The things he revered in his old life are revealed to be shallow and meaningless in the new one. The journey was largely an internal one for Cameron. It can even be debated if the journey actually happened at all or if it was just the product of a deteriorating mind.

This isn't a typical teen novel. It's one of the most unique books I have ever read in the young adult genre. I really respect the author that writes teen characters that curse and have sex because real teenagers (and people in general) curse and have sex. It's a part of life and pretending it doesn't exist or that's not how real people act does more harm than good in the lives of teenagers.

I really enjoyed this novel. It was funny, tragic, and disturbing at times. I had so much fun the wild ride with Cameron and his friends. My only complaint was that the ending took a little bit away from my enjoyment of the novel. I felt it could have been more ambiguous in the end and a little less off the wall. Other than that it was awesome. I would recommend this book to pretty much anybody.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins


Alyssa Kirk said...

I don't know why I've shied away from this one. But I love the author and you've inspired me to give it a try!

vvb32 reads said...

i have this on my tbr list but didn't know about the don quixote connection which is also on my tbr list. good to know. i'll have to do don first.

Zombie Girrrl said...

Great review! I really want to read this one; the hallucination twist sounds great! Is he actually going on a quest, or is it all in his head?
I had no idea about the Don Quixote thing, either. News to me!
The only reason I haven't read this yet is probably because mad cow is fatal, so the ending seemed written in stone, but you said it was "off the wall." Does finding a magical cure for an incurable disease count as off the wall? I guess I'll juts have to find out. :)

Misty said...

Commenting off of Alyssa, I DO know why I shied away from this one: I am not a fan of Libba Bray's writing. I have heard great things about this one, but then again, I heard great things about the Gemma Doyle books...
I had absolutely no clue that this was a Don Quixote retelling, however. That does make this more intriguin...