To my shame, however, I had never heard of the novel that won the Printz award. Didn't even know Libba Bray had written a new book, to be honest. It really drove home how much I miss by not being able to browse the tables at American bookstores on a regular basis.
I've had a lot of time to read over the past week, so I'm caught up now. Writing about Going Bovine presents quite a challenge: I don't want to tell you about the book so much as I want you to read it, so I can talk about it with you. I don't want to have to be careful about spoilers--though I will, just for you--and it's hard to relate the plot or discuss the philosophy of the book without talking about the ending.
Going Bovine relates the travels of Cameron Smith, a teenager dying of Mad Cow disease. It's one of the most beautifully constructed novels I've read in a while, setting out its influences--Don Quixote and Norse sagas and Road Runner cartoons and our awful cultural priorities, which too often place physical and emotional safety above all other considerations--and then letting them all play into Cameron's quest to find the man who might be able to cure him.
According to her bio, the author is--like me--a Preacher's Kid (though I prefer "Theological Offspring"). I'm dying to know what her father thinks of the novel. The book is definitely a philosophical novel, but the book's philsophy doesn't much bother with the idea of God (though it does feature a guardian angel). Through his travels, Cameron learns that no one is in charge of the universe. He also learns that the only way to deal with the danger and uncertainty of life is to embrace it: to take huge risks that might not pay off; to try hard new things at which you might suck; to love people you might lose.
I can't tell you how much I love this approach to life. I also can't tell you how hard I find it to live by. The past two years of my life have been full of transitions. While most of them have had tremendous upsides (helloooo, London! Hello meat pies and teatime and volunteering with teens and four-hour lunches and writing whenever I want!), most of them have also involved great losses. Dealing with the losses makes it really hard to embrace the gains: it's all too easy to imagine that I might lose those someday, too. Sometimes I need a novel-length reminder that it really is better to have loved and lost, that trying and failing is better than not trying and never knowing.
P.S.You should also really read the author's blog post about "the call," which includes a paragraph detailing all of my worst fears of a writing career, and confirmation that sometimes it all works out:
Still in disbelief, I stared at a picture of The Ramones. When I first moved to New York with dreams of being a writer, I used to see Joey Ramone walking around the East Village. I had concocted a whole fantasy in which he was sort of my secret saint, a good luck charm. Anytime I saw him, I’d assume it was going to be a good day. It was one of those beliefs I made up to keep myself going while I worked in publishing for $16,000 a year and had to cover the hole in the bottom of my shoe with duct tape because I couldn’t afford new shoes (no joke) and encountered rejection after rejection for my writing. Sometimes the rejections were form rejections, the we-won’t-even-consider-you kiss-offs. Sometimes they were brutal and snide and damaging, and then I would wish for the dismissive ones. On more than one occasion, I was told that my work was “weird” and “too much.” And now, many years later, I’d just gotten a phone call about possibly the weirdest, too much-iest thing I’d ever written, a book straight from my soul with detours through my heart and head, all my armor left on the floor, and a group of people I respect so much called and said, “Hey, you know your super weird book? Well, thank you for that.” The photo of the Ramones got fuzzier and fuzzier because the tears had come. Tears of joy. Gratitude. Validation.