Literary Criticism and Significance

Libba Bray, the author of Going Bovine, tried several different kinds of writing before she began her successful career as a young adult writer. She was a playwright (but, in her words, “not a very good one”) and a contributor to several book series under the pseudonym Emma Henry.

When she began publishing under her own name, Bray earned a following among young adult readers with her Gemma Doyle trilogy, a series of books set loosely in the Victorian era about a teenage girl who is involved with a circle of women who are able to do magic. Going Bovine, published by Delacourte Press in 2009,is a startling departure from these earlier works, which suggests that Bray is an author whose career will be full of breadth and surprises.

Going Bovine won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature in 2010. The committee who chose the book for this award is made up of professors, librarians, and other professionals who are involved in the children’s book field. Cheryl Karp Ward, the committee chair, said of the book:

Wow. Backwards and forwards, this wildly imaginative modern day take on Don Quixote is complex, hilarious, and stunning.

Going Bovine has received attention not only from standard reviewers of young adult literature, such as School Library Journal and Horn Book Review, but also from high-profile publications such as The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly.It is unusual for a young adult book, even a major award winner like this one, to receive such attention. The book’s fame is probably due to its uniqueness and its crossover appeal with both young adult and adult audiences. Libba Bray also has a reputation for working hard to promote her books through common methods such as blogging as well as through uncommon methods such as “walking the streets of New York City dressed as a Holstein cow” as an allusion to her character’s mad cow disease.

Reviewers praise Going Bovine for its originality. To some, this may seem surprising because the body of young adult literature already contains many books about teens learning the meaning of life while they die. However, Bray’s book is unusually zany, imaginative, and risky. According to Lisa Von Drasek of The New York Times:

Libba Bray not only breaks the mold of the ubiquitous dying-teenager genre—she smashes it and grinds the tiny pieces into the sidewalk.

The themes of Going Bovine are not new, but they are many sided and nuanced and give a careful reader more to think about.