Cameron’s life is not so hot. He claims the high point is when he almost drowns in the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney World. His popular twin sister doesn’t want anything to do with him and his prospects for college seem very dim. Things become even worse for Cameron as he starts hallucinating frightening fire giants and punk rock angels. Medical tests reveal he has Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a.k.a. Mad Cow Disease. He is now somewhat of a celebrity at his school because he is dying. Cameron is not sure how to feel about this. While in the hospital, the punk angel, Dulcie, convinces him to leave the hospital. She tells him he does not have Mad Cow; instead there is an evil force in the world only he can stop. Once he finds Dr. X, Cameron will be cured. So Cameron goes on a fantastical road trip with his friend Gonzo, who is a little person who turns out to be a huge hypochondriac.
One of my favorite moments is when Cameron is at the The Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack and Bowl. This is a place where everyone is happy. No one gets angry. Library Girl says to him, “I mean, suppose you take your anger and you channel it into a painting. Pretty soon, you don’t care about getting back at that idiot who pissed you off anymore because you’re totally into your painting. And then maybe that painting hangs in a gallery someday and it inspires other people to find their thing, whatever it is.” This reminds me of the moment in “Bowling for Columbine” when Michael Moore interviews the creators of South Park. Instead of shooting the classmates they hated, they made raunchy cartoon about them.
I keep recalling moments in this book and smiling. There is so much going on during this story that ties it all together. Thankfully it does not feel over stuffed. Bray does a beautiful job of throwing it all “out there” and then reeling the story back in so there is a satisfying ending. I absolutely loved it and would recommend it to teens and adults of either gender. Bray’s excellent writing and storytelling made this a worthy Printz winner.
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
Which did you think was real? What was going on or his dreams of being back in the hospital?
Will you ever look at lawn gnomes the same? What do you think was the significance of his character?
Did you think the Dulcie being trapped in the snow globe had anything to do with the snow globe on his dad’s desk in the beginning of the book?
Library Girl asks, “What if those so called negative feelings are useful?” Discuss.
So many people think happiness is most important. Talk about The Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack and Bowl. Would you want to be there?
Talk about Mad Cow Disease.
As Cameron is having his adventure, do you see moments he remembers from the beginning of the book, before he became sick? For example the snow globes, Disney and the TV shows.
How do you feel about your life? Are you Cameron before mad cow or after? What will you do now?