Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

23 Feb

Title: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Author: Jesse Andrews

Genre: Contemporary YA

Publisher: Amulet Books

Published: March 1, 2012

Challenge: Debut Author Challenge, Completely Contemporary Challenge

Source: NetGalley

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Greg has managed to become part of every social group at his Pittsburgh high school without having any friends, but his life changes when his mother forces him to befriend Rachel, a girl he once knew in Hebrew school who has leukemia.

Guys. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard reading a book. Actually, scratch that. I can’t remember EVER laughing so hard while reading a book. Honestly. I can’t remember a time when the book I was reading made me laugh out loud like ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL did. (Believe me. I TRIED to think of a time when this happened. No dice.) And you know what? IT FELT GREAT. Of course, you’re probably curious as to why a book about a young girl dying of cancer would be so dang hilarious. Understandable. The short answer, I found, is that the “dying girl” part of the book and the title is the teensiest bit misleading in terms of prominence to the story. CERTAINLY, Rachel is present and her cancer has an affect on what happens, but to me, this was a book about Greg Gaines and his outrageous humor, cynicism, and wry observations about high school and life. And, of course, dealing with the sickness of his classmate and friend, Rachel.

NOTHING about this book is typical. Greg is not a typical character: he’s hilarious, borderline offensive in a brutally honest way, and he painstakingly cultivates his essential nonstatus at his high school. Greg and Rachel are not a romantic couple in the least. Yes, this is a contemporary YA book with no real romance to speak of, and it suffers not really at all. His friendship with Earl is not typical: I’m not sure I could even call them friends all of the time. They make horrible home movies together and seem to drive each other crazy a lot of the time. Speaking of Earl, on the surface, he might not seem like a very likable character because he’s kind of prone to violent outbursts and is a little irritable. I’m going to talk a little bit more about how Earl surprised me in a sec. Because what I found most refreshingly atypical about this book was the way it–and, therefore, Greg, our narrator–dealt with cancer. There was a great lightness and honesty and humor in it that I found really kind of awesome. So many cancer books are, not inappropriately, sad. It was nice to look at it in a different light.

Now, if you’ll forgive me for a minute, I just wanted to talk about how sometimes too much of a good thing can turn on you JUST a LITTLE BIT. Because as much as I LOVED Greg and his hysterically funny, awkward snarkiness (I did! I promise), it did start to irk me just a touch as the book moved towards its conclusion. You see, Greg doesn’t change all that much. Sure, he seems to have a new appreciation for his future by the time the book ends (he’s trying to figure out what to do about college, an idea that Rachel has some thoughts on), but Greg himself seems mostly unaltered, even by Rachel’s sickness. I would get a feeling sometimes that his forced friendship with Rachel–even though it seemed to be growing in sincerity–was just this uncomfortable, awkward burden to him. He was aloof about it, and largely (although not wholly) unemotional. About everything. At first, this was AWESOME, and just a part of Greg’s completely gut-busting charm. And it stayed mostly awesome for the whole book. But there were times when I wished Greg took things a little more seriously and less selfishly.

Earl, on the other hand, had more depth to him than I would have guessed at first. While Greg was worrying about the way something would affect HIM, Earl was the one who would remind him that Greg wasn’t the center of the universe, that he was hung up on things that shouldn’t matter, that Rachel was sick and DYING and Greg was missing the point. Not only did I love Earl because he and Greg riffed off of each other to HILARIOUS ends, but I loved him because he was crazy and his home life sucked and he had a better understanding of BIG LIFE things than Greg did.

To be honest, I feel kind of stupid trying to ascribe emotions to these thoughts on ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL because I feel (GAH!) like it was the object of this book to be mostly UNEMOTIONAL. Or at least not emotional in the way that most books about cancer usually are. So in some ways I feel like saying that this book occasionally seemed a little detached is unfair. But for me, cancer is, in the end, emotional, and so, long rant short, while I LOVED and APPRECIATED the humor so much, I sometimes–sometimes!–missed the FEELINGS.

I mentioned before how Rachel took a little bit more of a backseat role to the main story than I thought she would. Don’t misunderstand: she’s around. Her cancer is important. But we aren’t reading this book from Rachel’s perspective; we’re reading it from Greg’s, and he’s actively trying to be NOT emotional about it. Near the end, Greg and Earl make a film for Rachel, who’s grown into quite a fan of their bad movies, and Greg has a realization that he HATES “Rachel: The Film” because it’s not really about Rachel at all; it’s about Greg and Earl. I think the book is exactly like this, too.

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL was a really refreshing book in a lot of ways. It was funny as hell, unflinchingly honest, quirky, and SO immensely enjoyable. I’m not kidding about the LOLing. It was MAJOR. Greg was really a great, hilariously flawed, seriously self-deprecating kid with such a vibrant and unique voice that just sucked me right in. But this is getting long, so I’m going to end it by saying that I got an ENORMOUS kick out ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, and I think that lots of you guys will, too.

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5 Responses to “Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”

  1. Tara @ Hobbitsies February 23, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    I love your review! I have this book coming up to read and review, so the fact that you loved it and enjoyed it so much is incredibly relieving. After all, you have very good taste.

    Plus, with a cover like this, if the book had sucked, I would be very upset.

    Can’t wait to read it!

  2. Jacinda (@ReadingWifeJac) February 23, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    You’re right about the “dying girl” part to the story! I didn’t even think of that until you just mentioned it! You’re right, this book isn’t typical! I loved the humor at the beginning, but for some reason I got bored with it…who knows. I could have been in a bad mood or something, lol.

    I’m really happy you loved this book! 🙂

  3. Katie February 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    I am so jealous that you already got to read this!!! The first review I read was on Pink Me and it was HILARIOUS. I was literally lol’ing just reading a couple of quotes from the book. Your review got me so excited all over again! And Greg’s realization about Rachel – The Movie sounds like maybe he started experiencing some growth?! Either way – I can’t wait to read it!!!!!!!

  4. Candice February 23, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    I.NEED.TO.FINISH.THIS.BOOK!!!!!!!!!!! I’m about halfway through it and stopped while back… hopefully it’s still around for me to read! Greg was beyond words and by far one of my favorite characters I’ve ever read. You’re right about not remembering a time when I laughed as hard as I did with this book. I hope Jesse Andrews continues to write as well as this one – he’s quickly become one of those writers I’ll read anything by and I think this is only his first book!

  5. Lisa! (@heylisarenee) February 25, 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    I’ve heard great things about this – so I appreciate your small critique about the lack of emotional connection sometimes.

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