This book starts out like any typical YA novel – our narrator is Cameron, a sixteen-year-old kid who is dealing with the typical family issues, going to a typical high school, and having typical sixteen-year-old problems and thoughts. We get through about sixty pages of this, so Libba Bray can set up Cameron’s personality and situation, and then BAM: she flips everything on its head, and suddenly the book takes a U-turn into Crazyville.
Cameron is diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, better known as mad cow disease. The disease will slowly eat away at his brain until he dies. There is no treatment, no cure. So Cameron’s in the hospital, trying to deal with the fact that he’s going to die very soon, when he is visited by a punk-rock, pink-haired angel who tells him that he’s been given a mission. Cameron has to find a Dr. X, who accidentally opened a wormhole and released dark energy into the world. If Cameron can find Dr. X in time, he’ll be cured.
And thus begins the most awesome road trip ever, in which Cameron breaks out of the hospital, assisted by a hypochondriac dwarf named Gonzo, and tries to find Dr. X while also fighting off fire giants and a dark wizard. There’s banter, pop-culture references, lots of quotes from a made-up movie that’s certainly not Star Wars, drag queens, drinking, cults, music, parallel universes, sex, and a lawn gnome that’s actually the Norse god Balder. It’s all amazing and scary and dramatic and, because this is Libba Bray we’re talking about, fucking hilarious. It’s intense, too – without giving away the ending, I’ll just say that it’s one of those endings where I finished the book and had to go sit somewhere quiet for a few minutes, and do nothing except think about the story. There’s a twist ending, but I guessed it so easily and so quickly that I almost suspect it’s not supposed to be that big of a surprise. I think the point isn’t that we’re not supposed to guess the twist; I think the point is that we guess it, but still spend the entire story hoping that we’re wrong. (sorry I can’t get into any more detail without spoiling the ending – read it the book, and then we’ll talk about it.)
“Maybe there’s a heaven, like they say, a place where everything we’ve ever done is noted and recorded, weighed on the big karma scales. Maybe not. Maybe this whole thing is just a giant experiment run by aliens who find our human hijinks amusing. Or maybe we’re an abandoned project started by a deity who checked out a long time ago, but we’re still hard-wired to believe, to try to make meaning out of the seemingly random. Maybe we’re all part of the same unconscious stew, dreaming the same dream, hoping the same hopes, needing the same connection, trying to find it, missing, trying again – each of us playing our parts in the others’ plotlines, just one big ball of human yarn tangled up together. Maybe this is it.”
Verdict: five out of five stars