Going Bovine

Book review by
Stephanie Dunnewind, Common Sense Media
Going Bovine Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Edgy, quirky road trip fantasy skewers reality TV and more.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 11 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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

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.

Sex

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.

Language

"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."

Consumerism

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.

What 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.

Wondering if Going Bovine is OK for your kids?

Set preferences and get age-appropriate recommendations with Common Sense Media Plus. Join now

Continue reading Show less

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bySarahK 3 February 17, 2015

It was good

i read this book a few years ago when i was fifteen and it really opened me up. i was at first very nervous about all of the cursing and everything about sex bu... Continue reading
Adult Written byrubbaduck4luck March 3, 2012

Stupid

With the book trying too be corky and indie, it really fell flat.
When I read the back of the book, I expected something really insightful about the author... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byabbacus May 5, 2013

Um, well..........

I did not really like this book. I'm not going to lie, I did not finish the book, but I will tell you why. Let me start by saying that I truly liked the be... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byNomacop January 1, 2013

going bovine

This is an amazing book with a unique, layered storyline that is very thought provoking.

What's the story?

When Cameron, a high-school slacker, finds out he has fatal mad cow disease, he sets out on an epic quest to find a cure and maybe save the world, too. Accompanied by his friends -- Gonzo, a dwarf, and Balder, a Viking god disguised as a long-suffering yard gnome (don't ask) -- Cameron faces an increasingly bizarre series of misadventures involving a punk angel, New Orleans jazz musicians, and snow globes in this very postmodern retelling of Don Quixote.

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the CESSNAB, the cult-like youth compound with the motto, "Don't hurt your happiness." Would you want to live in a place like that? Was it a utopia or dystopia?

  • Would you want to participate in a "realitymercial" where you could order custom-made lives? What is the author trying to say about "reality" TV?

  • Why do you think the author chose to make a yard gnome a key character in the novel?

Book details

  • Author: Libba Bray
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press
  • Publication date: September 22, 2009
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
  • Number of pages: 496
  • Last updated: June 19, 2019

For kids who love adventure

Our editors recommend

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate