Going Bovine by Libba Bray

bovine In a complete departure from her lauded Gemma Doyle trilogy, Libba Bray takes readers through the wormhole in this existential “moo”-gnum opus about a selfish teen who contracts Mad Cow Disease and, as a result, learns what it means to really LIVE. Sixteen-year-old Cameron is your typical self-absorbed teenager, obsessed with comic books, obscure music and little else. His parents’ marriage is crumbling, his popular sister denies his existence and he has been without a close friend for so long that he doesn’t even notice how lonely he is anymore. Then one day he begins seeing flickering flames in his peripheral vision and losing control of his various appendages. Turns out our man Cameron has gotten a hold of some bad beef, and now he’s going to die. Cameron is not cool about this new development at all, but what can you do when the universe decides that it’s time to punch your ticket? Well, you can go on a road trip. In the hospital, Cam is visited by a pink-haired angel named Dulcie who convinces him that there is a cure for his disease if he is willing to follow a set of totally random clues to Disneyland. Determined not to bite it before he at least loses his virginity, Cameron hightails it out of the hospital, with the help of his new friend Gonzo, a psychosomatic Little Person gamer, and his dad’s emergency credit card. On his way to Space Mountain, Cameron encounters New Orleans drag queens, Midwestern religious cult nuts, and a Nordic god disguised as a yard gnome. He buys a used Caddy with horns on the hood, is a contestant on a MTV-like spring break game show, and even does a little time traveling. Suddenly Cameron is having the time of his life–just as he is about to die. Of course, this whole adventure could just be a product of his spongy brain, which is slowly being turned into cottage cheese by his disease: it’s hard to say. Better not to ask too many questions and just enjoy the very wild and funny ride Libba Bray is taking you on that reads like a combination of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Christopher Moore’s Fluke. It’s weird. And wacky. And I’m still not sure I completely understood the physics bits. But in terms of marrying the suburban with the sublime and imparting the message that every day is a gift and living in the present is the best present you can give yourself, well, Bray hit it out of the park. Hard core Gemma Doyle fans may have a hard time making heads or tails of this one at first. But hang in there, G & TB lovers, and you will soon recognize your favorite author’s trademark sarcastic humor and boundary-pushing sensibilities in this surreal tale, albeit in a whole new time and place. An “udder”-ly original offering from a multifaceted author that won the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature!

Cairo by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by M.K. Perker

What do a smart-aleck drug smuggler, a female Special Forces Israeli solider, an idealistic American college student, a disenchanted Lebanese teenager, and a cynical op-ed columnist in the modern day city of Cairo have in common? Easy! They are all searching for (whether they know it or not) an enchanted hookah pipe that contains a benevolent genie who has the power (“We don’t pull things out of thin air, we manipulate probability.”) to make all of their dreams come true. The only obstacles in their way? A drug king-pin-turned-magician (who bears a striking resemble to Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil), the horned cousin of the benevolent genie who may or may not be Satan, and their own inability to work together as a team. If they can figure out how to do THAT, well, there just might be hope for peace in the Middle East. Funny, busy, and endlessly inventive, this stunning GN mixes faith, politics and fantasy in a way I’ve never seen before. The only thing I can think of that comes close is one of my favorite fantasies from ’08, The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick, which would make a nice companion prose read to this stellar graphic effort. And I’m not the only one to sing Cairo’s praises. It was also named one of the 2009 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association. So what are you waiting for? Take a magic carpet ride to Cairo today!

King of the Screwups by K.L.Going

There’s only one thing high school senior Liam Geller is good at—screwing up. No matter what he does or says, he just can’t seem to please his uber-strict dad, a controlling CEO who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Unfortunately, metrosexual Liam is his former runway model mother’s son—popular, gorgeous and impulsive, all qualities that his father despises. So when Liam finally screws up one time too many (getting caught drunk on his dad’s desk with a nearly naked girl), he is sent to stay with his gay, glam-rocking, trailer-park-living “Aunt” Pete in upstate New York. Aunt Pete is about as thrilled about the situation as Liam is, and the two strike an uneasy truce: Liam will ignore Aunt Pete’s large collection of animal-print and neon colored spandex pants if Aunt Pete will carve out a corner of the trailer as a make-shift closet for Liam’s select number of carefully chosen designer duds. In an effort to embrace trailer living and get back into his dad’s good graces, Liam resolves to squash all the aspects of his personality that his dad hates and become the biggest nerd the world has ever seen. There’s just one problem—his impeccably good taste and inherently good looks keep getting in the way. Even as a dork, Liam is a complete and utter failure. Will Aunt Pete ever be able to convince Liam that what his dad views as weaknesses are actually strengths? Or will Liam continue to hide his light under the bushel of his dad’s sky-high expectations and unrealistic demands? Liam struggles to see what the reader and Aunt Pete understand right away–he is massively talented, but what he and his father view as “talent” are two totally different things. Not just another “my parents are ruining my life” re-tread, this very funny fish-out-of-water tale is also about discovering what you’re good at and staying true to your personal vision, no matter how outrageous it may seem to others.

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose

The Unlikely Disciple
When Brown University student Kevin Roose told his parents he wanted to attend Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University for a semester, they were obviously shaken. After all, they had raised him to be a good liberal with solid Democratic values—where had they gone wrong?! Then Kevin explained that he wanted to enroll undercover in order to write a book about what it was really like inside the cloistered world of Christian college, and they relaxed…a little. The result of Roose’s anti-secular semester sojourn is this enlightening, balanced and highly entertaining book, where he shares his experiences with dating Liberty girls (“Hand holding and hugging are the only official displays of physical affection allowed at Liberty…and hugging only for a three-second maximum”), taking Liberty science classes (one professor provides physical dimensions for Noah’s ark and explains how the animals were in a state of hibernation so they didn’t need as much food), and checking out Every Man’s Battle meetings, “Liberty’s on-campus support group for pornography addicts and chronic masturbators.” But while some aspects of Christian collage were exactly what he expected, Roose was also surprised by how honest, kind, and funny his dorm mates were, and how much they struggled with the strict rules of Christianity that they professed to completely agree with. Although he was deeply troubled by the rampant homophobia that existed on campus and the anti-evolutionary stance taken by the faculty (some of whom are highly respected and published scientists) he was also deeply touched by the sincerity of these same students and faculty when it came to praying and helping one another through difficult times. Roose also really loved singing in the church choir, waking up on Sunday mornings without a hangover, and the surprisingly lack of pressure when it came to asking out Liberty girls. As someone who graduated from a (slightly) less strict Christian college than Liberty, and who no longer follows that spiritual path but still has friends who do, I really appreciated Roose’s tone, which was always open-minded and respectful and never condescending or patronizing. You can read more about Roose’s evangelical experience on his blog and website.

Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle

After a summer spent hiking and becoming one with nature in the mountains of Tennessee, fifteen-year-old Carly has discovered she’s more turned on by Neil Young and peasant skirts than Ne-Yo and Coach bags. So she tries to trade the materialistic trappings of her privileged life in the blinged-out Buckhead suburb of Atlanta for a hefty dose of sincere spirituality and altruistic activism. Easier said than done, especially when she returns home to discover that her sweet lil’ sis Anna has sprouted some serious breasts and a smokin’ hot bod. Suddenly, newly noble Carly finds herself in the painful position of being jealous of her own sister, an icky feeling that lingers no matter how much she tries to rationalize it away. It doesn’t help than Anna is also questioning Carly’s god-given big-sister authority and becoming a serious boy magnet while the boy Carly’s  crushing on doesn’t even know she’s alive. Meanwhile, Carly’s also struggling with how to get her ultra-slick dad to take her seriously, to assure her new BFF, who happens to be black, that she’s not just a part of Carly’s do-gooder, hippie make-over, and to convince herself that she’s definitely NOT in love with the boy next door who she’s known forever. Contrary to its’ super-cute cover and title, Baby Ducks has some serious meat on it’s pink-n-paisley bones. This surprisingly deep read covers everything from relationships and racism to socioeconomic class and spirituality, and contains lots of those interesting, uncomfortable moments that make you think. Fans of Sarah Dessen and Justina Chen Headley will want to snatch up this sister act asap. And just for fun, check out this video of Myracle chatting about friends, coffee, and Baby Ducks.