The Printz Award winner for 2010 is Going Bovine by Libba Bray. This is not your ordinary novel. It is not even fair to call quirky because that would give quirky a bad image. After reading this book, it amazed me that it received the honor that it did. However, knowing the American Library Association the way I do and also understanding that they like off beat "real life" stories, the selection made sense. To be completely open about what I perceive as good writing there are three things the story line should try to maneuver around as best as possible. First, don't rely on foul language as a form of authentic dialog. It's boring. It's rude and it's not needed. Second, there is a time a place for having a lovable loser. This book completely falls short on getting the reader to root for the "hero " , Cameron. In a story about a teen dying from Mad Cow Disease, at least give the readers a reason to feel for him. Third, if taking on deep philosophical issues such as the meaning of life either use comedy or drama, but don't do both if you are going use tacky trendy props just to make your tome seem "hip." Last but not least, have a clear time line in the story if going from an event in the present, to fantasy and to the past. The constant jumping around and characters who show up just for the sake of showing up was not only confusing but annoying. Having said all that, guess what Bray's book does. Ms. Bray uses foul language though out the book. The hero is a "loser" in high school but he is anything but lovable. The reader is never really sure if they are rooting for him or just hoping that the story will somehow start to make sense. The philosophical issues of life and death are dealt with in an attempt to be funny, and dramatic. Yet, it fails miserably because Bray could not get the mix of a drama/comedy right. If she attempted to make a stand on her convictions on life and death it may have had a chance. Last, the reader could get serious whiplash just by jumping around in time and space with Cameron. One never knows if the old lady from across the hall is going to show up or if the fire eating monsters are hot on the travelers trail.
The only bright spot of the book was Balder, the yard gnome. It was a treat to meet the second son of Odin. It was sadder to see Odin go on his last journey to the sea than to realize that Cameron's time was up. When does the reader get to meet Balder? Halfway into the book! it would have been so nice to have met him earlier! As much as I liked Balder, it seemed that he was used to bring in a little Norse Mythology and to have a sage voice giving Cameron to listen to once in a while. Let's see, where has mythology been used to tell a story? Ah, yes. Percy Jackson. So would that make Cameron a copy cat? Not really but it does point to Bray trying to tap into a current phenomenon in YA literature. The other trendy device is the gay agenda. To have Gonzo, Cameron's side kick in this adventure, find a gay lover is not only unbelievable but also put into question why that was necessary to be placed in the story. To give the book credibility? Well, it would have worked if the characters were not two dimensional
What's left to say? This year's award choice is a BUST. This book is simply not even worth recommending to friends. Unless, give the option to start at chapter twenty-eight to meet Balder. Many other books would have been a better choice for the first prize.