Study Guide

Going Bovine Summary

By Libba Bray

Going Bovine Summary

When it comes down to it, Going Bovine is a story about a young man learning to live while dying in a hospital bed at St. Jude's. When we meet Cam, he's a sullen, sarcastic teenager who pretty much hates life. He doesn't have any friends, he hates his family, and his job only adds to his misery. He's just coasting through life, pining for the time when he was actually happy (before he almost drowned at Disney World), when strange things start happening to him: His limbs start twitching uncontrollably, and he starts seeing giant fire beings, which can't be normal.

When Cam finally realizes that all of the weird stuff that's happening to him can't be attributed to some bad pot, and his parents start to catch on that something's wrong, he starts seeing doctor after doctor who don't have answers until one specialist diagnoses him with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Syndrome, a.k.a. mad cow disease. So little prions are eating little tunnels into his brain, causing him to gradually go mad and die.

Thankfully (for us), those prions cause Cameron to hallucinate a vibrant and very entertaining alternative world. In it, Dulcie (his punk-rock guardian angel) tells him that he needs to convince his hospital bedmate, Gonzo, to accompany him on a mission to save the universe from a rogue scientist by the name of Dr. X, close up the wormhole he accidentally left open, and defeat the fire giants who came through it. In doing so, Cam just might find a cure for himself.

So Gonzo—a hypochondriac dwarf with Mommy issues—and Cam escape the hospital and embark on a journey to find Dr. X by following vague "signs," which are often demarcated by a feather or a coincidence of some sort. As you do.

Their first stop is New Orleans, where they meet a helpful drag queen who helps them get a private audience with none other than Junior Webster, the jazz legend Cam's friend Eubie has idolized for decades. They have an enlightening conversation before the fire giants and the Wizard of Reckoning come for them; after Junior loses a trumpet battle with the Wizard, the boys make a close escape.

They follow the signs again, this time onto a bus destined for the YA! Party House in Daytona, but when Gonzo is distracted by a video game, they end up deserted at a bus stop somewhere in Mississippi. Ugh.

They start (angrily) hitchhiking. Cam has an attack, though, and almost gets hit by a van belonging to some Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack 'N' Bowl (a.k.a. CESSNAB) zealots who then bring the boys back to their compound. At the CESSNAB compound, Cam totally drinks the Kool-Aid, buying into the propaganda about always being deliriously happy and ignoring all the bad things in life. When a revolution begins with Cam right at the center of the action, though, he snaps out of it, and he and Gonzo escape, hitting the road once again.

A chance encounter during a bout of insomnia leads Cam to a party in the suburbs with some less-than-savory characters. On the upside, while he's there Cam befriends Balder, an immortal Viking god who—thanks to a curse—is stuck in the form of a garden gnome until he can find his ship (a.k.a. Ringhorn) and return home. He joins the boys on their mission, helping them destroy a diner and then trick a car salesman into selling them a beat-up old Caddy they dub Rocinante.

The boys get back on the road toward Disney World, where they're convinced Dr. X is hiding. They pick up three hitchhikers to give themselves some cover, since they're now wanted by the police and under an impressive bounty from the United Snow Globe Wholesalers. They befriend the dude-bros, but then when they drop them off at the YA! Party House, the idiots kidnap Balder, so the boys have to put their mission on hold yet again in order to rescue their diminutive friend.

Gonzo and Cam have to pass several tests given by the pop-culture maniacs from the YA! TV station, but they manage to steal Balder back from his captives. While they're there, a band called Copenhagen Interpretation makes a surprise appearance. Cameron figures out a way to rig a Calabi Yau manifold to an amp while the band is playing, which somehow creates a vibration that defeats the fire giants and closes the wormhole threatening to engulf them all. Nice.

They still need to find Dr. X in hopes that he has a cure for Cam, but first they decide to take a small detour so that Balder can see the ocean and look for Ringhorn. While there, though, the United Snow Globe Wholesalers find them and Balder gets killed in the attack. Dulcie gets shot and turned into a snow globe (not cool, guys), so Cam and Gonzo follow the USGW jerks to Disney hoping they can find and save her.

They eventually reach Tomorrowland, where Cameron and Gonzo avoid being captured by USGW guys, and Cam finally finds Dr. X and the Wizard of Reckoning. They have a big final showdown where Cameron defeats the Wizard by playing Junior Webster's horn… and then we are re-introduced to reality, where Cameron dies. Bummer, right? In the final chapter, however, we see Cameron still happily ensconced in his fantasy with Dulcie—perhaps forever.