5 out of 5 stars
First published in March 2012, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the début novel by Jesse Andrews. It follows Greg Gaines in a first person narrative as his mother forces him to reconcile an old friendship with a girl named Rachel. Greg isn’t keen on making friends – only tolerating the company of his companion Earl because of their joint love of movies – so is far from happy when he has to make friends with this girl after ditching her years prior. To make matters worse, his mother’s motives are fuelled by the sudden news that Rachel has been diagnosed with leukaemia and socially inept Greg has no idea how to act around her.
Honestly, I can’t fault this book. It was amazingly realistic.
It’s not just another cancer story, it takes into consideration the realities that people face around the whole topic of cancer and just being a teenager. Not one single person is perfect but I think that Greg perfectly embodies that fact.
His voice is hilarious to read but sad at the same time because you want him to get his act together. He describes himself as fat and rat-faced. No real description on hair colour or eye colour, that I can remember at least, so he’s not the typical protagonist. And he is certainly has a lot of faults.
As I said just now, not one character in this book is perfect. Not in the slightest. And that’s what made it feel real. This was the perspective of school that I had – not the awkward boners obviously but everything else. I related to Greg and I’m only a little ashamed to admit it.
The book highlights multiple reactions to cancer from all sides – Rachel’s initial determination and eventual decision to give up; Greg’s awkwardness and incomprehension of what is really going on; and the fact that poor messed up Earl is the voice of reason.
The novel was fantastically written and I loved that it took elements from the hobby of the narrator to help get through some scenes. Most of the time, the novel was written as such with clear paragraphs and dialogue. But then out of nowhere the narrative would switch to a script format. It made the novel so much easier and quicker to read – plus it added to the hilarity, sadness or awkwardness at the right moments.
Everything was talked about openly and not glossed over. There was no censorship – cancer was talked about in ways that made any reader who had no idea the impact cancer had on not just the sufferer but the people around them aware of how terrible a disease it is. It also tried to show that you can make a situation like that better, you just need to have the bravery to make the right choices.
Also, I liked how much Earl swore. It too was realistic. Most books aimed at a YA/teen audience censor themselves and it feels so false. The only book that I liked that did that was Rebel Belle and that was because it explained why and actually did swear occasionally. But this book just went full on (“Donkey dicks”, “fuck”, etc.) Just any variation of a swear word you can think of you will find in this book and that is real. Teenagers swear so much unless they’ve been completely whipped by their parents so it makes sense that a teenager would be swearing in a book with teenage characters!
Jesse Andrews, I salute you and your awesome. I loved the ending and the stuff you mentioned about making it a film – you’re right, it would be messed up but still pretty funny. Thank you for writing an amazing story.