Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

12700353Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.

Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.

Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.

And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.

I don’t even know where to start.

First let me tell you that I have this particular aversion to sad books, dying books, cancer books, or whatever you may call it. Mostly because these books tend to end in really depressing ways which I don’t handle very well. Suffice to say, I was very cautious about reading Me and Earl and the Dying Girl because I was afraid it would end badly and I’d wind up bawling at three in the morning while lying on the cold, hard, ground. When I finally came around to reading this book (2 months after I purchased it), I didn’t expect it to be good as it was and it actually surprised me a lot. The sob story that I was anticipating didn’t happen, thank God, and I was treated to a roller-coaster-crazy ride of a story.

I was very impressed by Jesse Andrews’ delivery of this novel. It was nothing but honest and straightforward in the most obnoxiously hilarious of ways. Greg Gaines is the very epitome of an anti-hero and yet I couldn’t help but root for him just for the mere fact that his personality felt so real, so unusual, and yet so perfectly human.

Despite the part in the title where it says ‘The Dying Girl’, Rachel’s illness never really took center stage in this novel. It worked as a subplot, a quiet reminder that bad things happen to good people and most of the time, there is just nothing you can do about it no matter how much you want to. Or in this case, how much you don’t want to.

Greg was forced by his mother to befriend Rachel, the dying girl he used to know in Hebrew School and prior to her illness, Greg almost forgot that Rachel even existed at all. Jesse Andrews allowed Greg to revel in the truth that he doesn’t want to do this, he doesn’t want to get involved because he doesn’t even like Rachel enough to be moved by her situation. And even though he did, in the end, only because he was being made to. Like a reasonable person, Greg feels like he should want to make Rachel feel better because she’s dying, but it just doesn’t come to him naturally.

Many people would probably think that Greg is a horrible person, which he  himself acknowledges in the novel, but I think that his reaction appealed to me because it was real. It was honest and genuine, and that’s considerably better than if Greg cared all of a sudden when he didn’t give a flip before Rachel got sick.

I love that this book is so unapologetically candid, vulgar even, and unlike other ‘cancer books’, doesn’t play into the reader’s emotions just to coax out a reaction. It didn’t try too hard (or at all) to be inspirational or life affirming and the characters aren’t unrealistically mature thinkers like some of John Green’s “middle-aged teenagers”. (credit to Emily of The Book Geek for this terminology)

All in all, this is probably one of the most unforgettable novels that I have ever read so far. It made me laugh so hard I cried. This is a funny, odd, and compulsively readable novel that engages you from the very beginning and never lets you go. If you are looking for a realistic, touching, yet hilarious read, this book is definitely for you.



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