I can’t say a lot of things about Libba Bray’s Going Bovine without spoiling anything, so I’ll just say…read this book! You’re going to like it. It will make you think. It will make you feel, and it will urge you to live your every day like it’s your last. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll laugh while crying. This is perhaps one of the best books about a dying teenager I’ve ever read. Cameron Smith is such a memorable kid, and I’m willing to revisit this novel over and over just so I can see his growth and hear his voice. It’s that good.
I’ll share one of my favorite poignant moments in the book. It’s an exchange between Cameron and his dad, right after they learned Cam has a fatal illness. They are not really close. His dad usually chides him harshly for not being the son he wanted him to be, and the sudden change in his attitude when he learns of his son’s fate makes for an amazing drama:
“Hey, buddy.” The last time Dad called me buddy I was eight and had the measles.
I look up briefly. “Hey.”
“How’re you feeling?”
“Yeah?” He asks like he really wants to know.
“Yeah. You know. Okay.”
“Yeah.” He nods and picks up a Great Tremolo LP and pretends to read it. “This guy any good?”
“Your mom told me about the, ah, the doctor’s visit. I swear those guys don’t know their asses from their elbows. Anyway, Stan in my office—you know Stan Olsen?—he gave me the number of a specialist in Dallas. I made an appointment for Tuesday.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing, Cam. Viruses can mimic all kinds of things. The doc will probably throw us out for wasting his time.” Dad puts the Great Tremolo LP down. He looks at the junk-strewn floor like it’s causing him actual pain but he only clears his throat. “Cameron, what did you see? When the toaster caught on fire? Your mom said something about fire giants.”
“I guess I was just getting sick.”
Dad thinks it over, nods. “Speaking of fire, maybe I’ll build us one tonight. We could toast marshmallows, watch a movie?”
It seems like a bad time to point out that it’s sixty degrees, not exactly cozy fire weather. “Sure.”
“Okay. Well. I’ll, ah, just … chop some wood. Okay, buddy?”
I hear the sliding doors into the backyard open and close. When I peek out my window, Dad’s standing in the yard with his hands on his hips, just looking around like he’s never really seen our backyard before. He picks up the ax, takes a halfhearted swing at a puny log. Then he drops to his knees and closes his eyes for a minute. I’d almost swear he was praying. But my dad’s a scientist. He doesn’t believe in religion. He leaps up and swings the ax down hard on the log, putting his whole body into it again and again till there’s nothing left but a mess of splinters.
Did you hear the pain in the father’s voice while he assures Cam the previous doctor made a mistake? And did you feel the hurt in the image in the last paragraph? Everything about this totally breaks my heart. He loves Cameron, even if the kid is one heck of a jerk who doesn’t want to achieve anything in his life. Just rereading this part makes my eyes sting with tears. :’(