A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The book skewers many things, including standardized tests. The novel also makes fun of self-esteem boosters via a faux religious group called CESSNAB (Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack-n'-Bowl), which wants everyone to be noncompetitive and happy. The "church" limits reading to one book and tells teens to buy things if they are bored or sad. Some teens rebel against it. Other targets for derision include reality TV shows and "realitymercials."
Positive Role Models
Cameron is a slacker who shows up late for work, gets bad grades, doesn't keep his promises, and says his religion is "apathy." He says "f--k that" to "life-affirming" messages. He eventually learns to care about people besides himself. Gonzo is very fearful and attached to his mother but becomes more independent and daring (he gets a tattoo). Cameron and Gonzo sneak out of the hospital without telling their parents. Cameron's sister Jenna diets and barely eats. Minor characters do bad things: A girl gives Cameron tips on shoplifting, and her boyfriend bashes mailboxes with a baseball bat. A guy steals Balder.
Violence & Scariness
The fire giants burn and destroy things. Cameron and Gonzo get blamed for this and are considered terrorists. Gonzo punches Cameron. Teens rebel against a mind-control youth group. A cashier shoots at Dulcie and Cameron. Dulcie can see into the future and says one teen will get killed when he joins the army and steps on a land mine.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A football player does "the horizontal mambo with sympathetic cheerleaders." Cameron tries to embarrass his sister by asking if the birth control pills he found in the bathroom were hers. Cameron mentions masturbation, getting hard-ons, or going "a little expansive in my Fruit of the Loins" several times. He has sex without a condom with a girl (a letdown) and then again with an angel (better). Cameron believes his father is having an affair with his young assistant. Gonzo kisses his boyfriend.
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"S--t" and variations on "ass" ("asshole," "jackass," "kickass") are some of Cameron's favorite words, with plenty of "f--ks" and "f--k yous" thrown in as well. One of Cameron's curses is "Holy Shiite Muslim." Gonzo swears in Spanish. Characters flip each other the bird. Other language is milder, such as "pissed," "hell," "crap," "damn," and "turd."
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Products & Purchases
There are many mentions of a fictional movie called Star Fighters, a thinly veiled reference to Star Wars. The Disney ride "It's a Small World" also plays a key role in the plot. Overall, the author mostly mocks society's over-consumption.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Cameron smokes pot at home and with a group of stoners in a school bathroom; he drinks alcohol at a party. He abstains from drinking when he knows he will drive. Other teens smoke, use fake IDs to buy beer, and drink to excess at a TV-show sponsored "party house." Cameron has to see a drug counselor and psychiatrist.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know this wacky novel features a teenager's death, a punk angel, and plenty of edgy behavior by teens (condom-free sex, drinking, pot-smoking, and running away). Lots of salty language, too.
Is It Any Good?
Fans of Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty) will recognize the alternative-world fantasy elements in this book, but any resemblance ends there. Though the middle section stretches too long as Cameron moves from one absurd situation to the next, readers will stick with Bovine for its male bonding and humorous send-ups of fast-food restaurants, self-esteem, and reality shows. The over-the-top elements ultimately serve a quieter purpose, asking teens to ponder what it means to really live an engaged life.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.