Published Sept. 22, 2009
I bought this book
5 stars based on everything...
Let me just start off by saying if I could give each and every one of you a copy of this book I would. That's how much I loved it. It's the kind of book that makes you think to yourself, "Oh yeah, THIS is why I read..."
Here's the summary from Goodreads...
Cameron Smith, 16, is slumming through high school, overshadowed by a sister “pre-majoring in perfection,” while working (ineptly) at the Buddha Burger. Then something happens to make him the focus of his family's attention: he contracts mad cow disease. What takes place after he is hospitalized is either that a gorgeous angel persuades him to search for a cure that will also save the world, or that he has a vivid hallucination brought on by the disease. Either way, what readers have is an absurdist comedy in which Cameron, Gonzo (a neurotic dwarf) and Balder (a Norse god cursed to appear as a yard gnome) go on a quixotic road trip during which they learn about string theory, wormholes and true love en route to Disney World. Bray's surreal humor may surprise fans of her historical fantasies about Gemma Doyle, as she trains her satirical eye on modern education, American materialism and religious cults (the smoothie-drinking members of the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack 'N' Bowl). Offer this to fans of Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy seeking more inspired lunacy.
Sounds crazy, huh? But it's so not. Yes, there is a ton of stuff going on in this book but here's the beauty of it...it's not just filler, everything counts and everything has meaning. Lemme give you some info the summary doesn't. Mad cow disease is a death sentence. It starts eating away at your brain, literally leaving holes, causing your bodily functions to slip away one by one. Most of what goes on in this book happens after Cameron is diagnosed and admitted to the hospital and the "adventure" is what goes on in his mind as the disease progresses.
There are three quotes given before the story gets under way and each one holds profound meaning...
"Take my advice and live for a long long time because the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die." (Don Quixote.) Don Quixote is what Cameron was studying in school before his illness took over. And though his body kept him from living his life, his mind refused to give up and it took him on an incredible journey where he battled the "fire monsters" destroying his brain cells and where he lived as fully and as bravely as he could.
"Hope is the thing with feathers." (Emily Dickinson) Cameron's mother was an English teacher, so at some point he had heard this quote and feathers appear in his adventure, directing him where to go and symbolizing how he held onto hope and the desire to live.
"It's a small world after all." (Walt Disney) Cameron and his family had gone on a trip to Disneyworld when he was five and Disneyworld "the happiest place on earth" shows up in his adventure as well. And while all of these things can be taken literally because they were, literally, a part of Cameron's life experiences, they are symbolic as well.
All the things that have influenced Cameron in his 16 years show up in his adventure. His father is a physicist, so there is a chapter where Cam comes across scientists who are exploring other dimensions. His mother is a teacher and used to tell him bedtime stories of mythology, hence the Norse God yard gnome. Religion is there. Science is there. Consumerism, MTV pop culture, family, friendship...all are there. But ultimately it is the question of what it really means to live that is at the heart of this book. At the same time it is distinctly and personally Cameron's story, it is all our stories as well.
Read this book. It was, quite simply, brilliant.