Monday, December 28, 2015

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

Yep. All the feels. And what would you expect from a book with a title like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl?

When I read Jesse Andrews' soon-to-be-published second book, The Haters, last month, I remarked that I had wanted to read Me and Earl and the Dying Girl first, but had held off because I thought I might see the movie version instead. But I never got around to seeing the movie, so I gave the book a shot, given the rave reviews it has gotten.

Happily, I wasn't disappointed. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is goofy and a little juvenile at times (but then again, so am I), but it has tremendous heart and humor, and is far more realistic dialogue-wise than a lot of other young adult books out there, where the characters are so clever and wise beyond their years it's easy to forget they're supposed to be teenagers.

Greg Gaines is an awkward, self-deprecating high school senior, who spends most of his time trying not to be noticed. He's nice to everyone but not too nice, for fear that people might think he's affiliated with a particular group or clique and judge him for it. He's basically just trying to bide his time and stay out of sight.

"So in order to understand everything that happened, you have to start from the premise that high school sucks. Do you accept that premise? Of course you do. It is a universally acknowledged truth that high school sucks. In fact, high school is where we are first introduced to the basic existential question of life: How is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad?"

Greg really only has one friend, Earl, although their relationship mostly revolves around grossing each other out, cursing, eating, playing video games, and making really amateurish films. So Greg is utterly unprepared when he learns that Rachel, a girl he used to know from Hebrew school, is dying of leukemia, and his mother wants him to spend time with Rachel to cheer her up.

This book isn't one of those in which the main character makes remarkable discoveries about life and friendship while spending time with a terminally ill friend. Greg doesn't really have an epiphany—in fact, he spends most of his time with Rachel vacillating between trying to make her laugh, making her laugh, and saying things he wished he didn't say. And then things devolve even further when Greg and Earl are convinced to make a film for Rachel, and they have no idea what to do, and what the consequences of their actions will be.

I laughed out loud more than a few times reading this book, and I got choked up more than a few times, too. But while the book is a little bit zany at times, it felt very real—while it's been some time since I was a teenager, Greg reacts to situations in ways I'd expect less-than-well-adjusted teenagers would react. I liked that Andrews didn't try too hard to hammer you with messages about cherishing every moment, or fighting as hard as you can, since that wouldn't have fit with the book.

The humor is a bit juvenile at times, and there is a lot of cursing (because, again, teenagers). But if goofy and puerile don't put you off, you'll be rewarded with a book that has sweetness within its ornery nature, and balances the funny with the emotional. For me, that makes a pretty enjoyable read.

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