Saturday, June 13, 2015

Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Title: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Author: Jesse Andrews
Published: March 1, 2012 by Amulet Books
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Humor
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased online at
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.

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(Warning: Review may contain spoilers!)

It seems to be that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews is yet another fiction book that contains a girl who has cancer and is on the edge of dying. Well, it doesn't seem to be because it really is.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is about a high school senior named Greg Gairnes, who has mastered the way high school life works, but is unwilling to present himself in any social environment. He only has one friend, Earl Jackson, who he considers more as a coworker than an actual friend. Together, they spend time making films, mostly remake or parodies of popular films they've watched. But then, due to his mother's sudden interest in rekindling a childhood friendship, Greg is forced to visit Rachel Kushner, who has been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. They form a platonic bond—their time together consists mostly of Greg's attempts to make her laugh. But when Rachel decides to stop receiving treatment and just wait for the inevitable, Greg and Earl decide to create a movie for her. The film didn't turn out the way the two filmmakers would have wanted it, but it suddenly becomes a turning point in each of their lives.

Here are some things that I like about the book as soon as I began reading it: the narrator's voice. It is candidly humorous, straightforward, and even brutally honest, which makes the book one hilarious read. The chapter titles are absolutely entertaining. I also like the fact that most of the dialogues are written in movie script form, which only reflects Greg as an aspiring filmmaker. It's truly a unique idea that I find highly refreshing and compelling.

Setting aside the above paragraph, my most favorite thing about the book has got to be Earl Jackson. Greg is right: Earl really is a better person than him. Although Earl curses a lot and seems to be lacking some proper manners, at least Earl is aware of what should be appreciated. This is the main reason as to why he is Greg's foil character in the book. Greg has been too self-indulged that he's overlooking the important things around him. He's too engrossed with his films that he's under appreciating Rachel, who is the closest thing Greg can get to a friend. But because he seems to be clouded most of the time, he's actually taking her company for granted. On the other hand, Earl truly cares for Rachel and is frankly appreciative of the little time they get to spend together. He shows her the films he and Greg made together, the ones they promised they wouldn't show a single soul, because he believes that Rachel, who is actually showing genuine interest in their works, deserves to see it.

Another thing that I adore about Earl is that he knows how to handle himself. He's got a bad family, and he knows it—he's aware of how terrible his family is living, but he's willing to pull himself out of it. He even says so himself: "But I gotta take care of my own shit [ . . . ] They got shit to figure out before I can help em. I love my mama, but she has problems that I can't help her with. I love my brothers, but they need to figure they shit out before I can help em. Otherwise they just gonna drag me down." He has grown to be a matured man who knows how to turn his life for the better, no matter if he starts his progress by working at a Wendy's fast food chain.

The last thing that I like about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is Greg's character development by the end of the book. Although he grew quite too late, I still like how upon seeing Rachel in her hospital bed, possibly close to breathing her last breath, and finally realizing that she can let go any time she chooses, Greg finally understands the importance of really getting to know someone for who they are because you never know when it is going to be too late to do so.

On another note, the only thing that made me cringe about the book is the excessive swearing. It is understandable—since the narrator is a teenage male high school senior, and teenagers are found to be cursing more in today's world—but there are just too much. Too much profanity for my own liking. I mean, if this book is going to have a movie adaptation (which will actually happen), and film critics are rating movies based on the amount of foul language, this book's movie adaptation will undoubtedly be an R-rated film. (But the adaptation is actually rated PG-13.)

If you are looking for a light and fun read and you just want to laugh paragraphs after paragraphs, then yes, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the perfect book for you. And if you are someone who doesn't really mind the excessive expletives, then I will also recommend the book. However, on a personal level, I think that the novel is . . . ehhh . . . okay. It's not the greatest, but it's not the most terrible either. It's in its own sweet spot, so to say. You got to be in the mood for it, or this kind of book has to be your sort of thing to be able to actually enjoy the entire story.

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Jesse Andrews is a novelist and musician. He has worked previously as a travel writer, tour guide, and receptionist at a German youth hostel. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but is currently making his home in Brooklyn, New York. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is his first novel.

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