If you like your quest adventures filled with existentialism and satire, Going Bovine (2009, Random House Children's Books) by the most-awesome Libba Bray will rock your world.
This is one. trippy. book.
Gemma Doyle fans take note: we are not in Victorian England anymore. Not one spec of lace to be found -- although there are plenty of feathers.
Eoin Colfer has (I hear) done a smashing job of continuing Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide, but Bray could easily pinch hit. Her dry wit and sarcasm are perfectly channeled through her teenage hero, 16-year-old Cameron.
Poor Cameron. He's not doing so well in school, he's not popular like his twin sister, he cuts class and hangs out in the bathroom with the pot-smokers... and then strange things start happening. Turns out, Cameron has Mad Cow disease, and before he knows it, he's in the hospital.
From there, things get stranger... Cameron's friend from school, a dwarf named Gonzo, ends up in the same hospital room. Encouraged by the vision of a fishnet stocking-wearing angel named Dulcie, they take off on a Don Quixote-like quest to find the mysterious Dr. X who might be able to cure Cameron and stop the dark forces he allowed to enter the world from destroying it. (pant pant)
There truly has never been a road trip like this one. Racing the clock to find Dr. X before the sand runs out of Cameron's hourglass, they "follow the feather" from Texas to New Orleans to Spring Break in Florida to Disney World, battling dark forces with the help of a dead jazz musician, a yard gnome/Viking and the world's most beloved (and mysteriously missing) rock band. And the thread running through it all: is this really happening? Or is Cameron's Mad Cow-infected brain creating this as it turns to mush?
Did I mention this is One. Trippy. Book?
Bray slices the teenage world wide open and hangs it all out there for examination. Each stop along the way presents Cameron with temptations that may or may not be positive one, painting an absurd world in which teenagers must learn to choose which is which. As in any good satire, it's often too close to the truth. Whether in the form of a smiling cult of do-gooders or the latest MTV generation of reality-show wanna be's, every encounter is an opportunity for Bray to make a statement. Luckily, she does it in her own subtle way, staying just this side of preachy.
Cameron's metamorphosis in character is extensive. You're not going to like him much in the beginning, but stick with the kid because he'll grow on you. Dulcie remains an enigma, with good reason I suppose, but I would have liked more of her character. Gonzo and the Viking god Balder (who is trapped in the form of a yard gnome) are the most interesting characters and play their parts well as Cameron's loyal buds.
I go back and forth about how I feel about the ending, and I won't say more here because it's impossible to do so without spoilers. But I have no doubt Cameron's fate is, and will continue to be, the subject of much debate for readers.
While the dust jacket says 14 and up, I have to play conservative on this one and recommend it more for someone old enough to drive due to R-rated language and more than a few scenes of mature subject matter. That said, high school readers (especially those who have studied Don Quixote) will soak up this mind-spinning journey. 4 bookmarks.