I've read "Going Bovine" by Libba Bray twice. For a long time I debated how I wanted to review this book. Not whether I liked it. I could say this is the best YA release of 2009 and call it a day. But this book requires something more than that in a review, and something less than what I've read so far. It's a book that changed so much about me in a hundred tiny little ways. And as we all know, such changes create others in an infinite ripple that moves throughout the world. If this book did that for me, what did it do for others?
An aside for my reviews:
A lot of people give you advice in writing. You have to weed out the bad from the good. I think it's good advice to not publicly state you didn't like an author's book(s) if you're a writer.
But if you're going to say you didn't like a book, I think you should say it to an author's face and be polite about it. And you should have a reason for doing so. I don't like the nagging of dishonesty hovering between the surface. That's not how I work. Of course, if the opportunity to "face" the author isn't a factor, I believe your review should be true to your feelings for the work. Still, you have to keep in mind that you are a professional. Act like one. Your review is your review, not to be influenced by any other source. If everyone else hates the book and you love it, then let your review reflect that love. Recommend it others. If you despise a book that everyone else adores, then don't hold back the loathing--just be clever with how you use your words. That's what distinguishes an amateur from a professional.
So, if I read your book and review it here, I'm going to be honest. This presents an immense challenge for me. It's kind of funny. When I signed up for the debut author challenge I considered this and pushed right on ahead. Now, the time has come for me to begin reviewing these books on my list--I'd planned on June, but now it seems it will be July due to recent traveling. Anyway, as I review each of these books I take a risk. If I review one negatively I might make enemies. An author such as myself cannot afford enemies. That's why I say it's good advice to keep it to yourself if you, as a writer, don't like the book.
But, to hell with it! This is my blog and I'm going to give all of them honest feelings about their books without any influences. That's a gift. Any reviewer who gives a review (without an agenda) has courage. If you're a writer risking your career, it's damn near suicidal but it's a great thing. I'm pointing this out because I wish more reviewers would do so from their hearts, stop following crowds, quit the agenda crap, and experience standing as they voice their truths. Books can being the greatness in us to the surface if we allow it. Reviewing books has the potential to bring out the best and the worst. Look for the great, try to avoid the worst, and maybe you'll be the best at it.
Now, you must be wondering why I put this aside in the middle of a review for "Going Bovine," right? Well, I have a lot of respect for Libba Bray. In fact, I have so much respect for her that I didn't like any pretenses at all. The only contact I've ever had with this author is posting one thing on her facebook wall. Why there? Why not in e-mail or in person? It seems to me I don't ever need to bother her with an e-mail. Likewise, why would I ever bother to meet her? "Going Bovine" may have changed my life, but she's a busy writer. I do, however, believe in not having that uncomfortable partial dishonesty feeling when I praise a book. So, on her facebook wall--months ago--I mentioned something like...while I had read three of her other books and they were not my cup of tea, I thought "Going Bovine" was the best YA release I'd read in a long time. My intention was not to criticize. Rather, I wanted absolute honesty. In my opinion, I gave her the ultimate compliment. Normally, I dismiss an author after three books don't take with me. For a 4th to rock my world...it taught me a lesson--two in fact. That's another post, though. Now I'm laying it all out here so anyone can learn whatever they can from the whole thing.
Back to "Going Bovine"
Every review needs some kind of summary.
Cameron is a slacker, coasting his way through high school and life. When he finds out he's dying, reality blurs. A trip across America ensues with a punk angel telling him he has to save the world She says he can save himself, too. With a hypochondriac dwarf as his sidekick and a yard gnome who claims to be a viking God, they get into one insanely hilarious adventure after another. Each is light enough to just move and keep moving, but on reflection leaves the reader introspective. Reaching the finale is about learning to live. All the fabulous action aside, the finale essentially asks the question "why do we live?" And Cameron's answer is surprisingly satisfying. The final chapter is an explosive beginning--there are two Chapter Ones. The book may, at first glance, appear to be about death, but that's wrong. This is a book about life. Sometimes you have to find the beginning at the end, and life is a crazy road trip to Disney World.
This book is one of those love it or hate it things. Give it a shot. All I know is that I haven't reread a YA book since the Harry Potter series and Twilight saga days. Oh, I have classics. But of recent releases, "Going Bovine" blew me away. If this isn't some sort of quiet phenomenon I would be surprised.
As I mentioned earlier it changed me in so many small ways. I can't help but wonder how it worked on other people. Will future artists, writers, and leaders be shaped by this book? What subtle ways will it change them? Maybe you think I'm silly, but if I'd had this book when I was in high school, I have no idea what would have happened... That I have it now, well, my path is altered.
To a generation that is increasingly disconnected from life, perhaps this book will be an awakening.