Book Review of Me, Earl and and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Posted January 7, 2013 by Kara in Lyn / 10 Comments

Publisher: Amulet Books

Release Date: March 1st, 2012
Pages: 308
Genre: Young Adult – Realistic
Source: I own a copy of this book via Kindle

Blurb from Goodreads: 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.

Review:  This isn’t your typical, run-of-the-mill sap-tastic cancer story.  No sobbing, sticky sweet terminal romance is to be found here! (Don’t get me wrong, I cried for a long time after The Fault in Our Stars – I do love me some candy flavored romance books).  However, every once in a while, you need something a little tougher on your “haz cancer” shelf. Me, Earl and the Dying Girl pulls away from the norm and instead uses cancer as a catalyst and an opportunity to explore friendship and the role of how people connect with one another.  I’m a huge sucker for the urban legend stories that get deposited into your e-mail from time to time, about animals who save the lives of babies and about mysterious strangers buying all of the poor children new jeans for Christmas after their dad and mom were laid off from their three jobs. It is inspiring to read about people who change their lives after a tragedy.  I need that vein of human compassion in my life.  Without it, I become a puddle of emotional rage about the unfairness of life.  Young Adult fiction is a breeding ground for life shattering, fate altering storylines and bleeding heart protagonists. But the field could also use a healthy dose of reality from time to time.  This story isn’t about “How I Will Change My Life Because of Tragedy.”  This book is about “What To Do When Tragedy Just Mildly Inconveniences My Life, But I Feel Like a Crappy Person Because I’m Not That Upset.”  I believe I can say that we have all been in that horrible situation.  We cannot take every sad event and turn it into a life altering one.  It isn’t possible.  Life is difficult enough without having to avenge every wrong in the world.  And thankfully, an author was brave enough to put it down into words.

Greg Gains, the main character of the book, is a severely flawed character.  In fact, each of the main characters in the book does not try to be anything but themselves.  Greg’s friend (or “coworker”), Earl, has his own fair share of complicated and negative traits.  Rachel, the “dying girl”, is profiled as a bland character and never really shows any of her own personality, and tends to take a backseat to the plot.  However, all of this made the book feel like it could have been based on a true story.  A very low key, run of the mill, normal every day person story. After finishing the book, I realized that Andrews set out to write a story about the real side effects of the mortality of people and friendships, not about the long term effects of a major illness.

The dynamic between Greg and Earl lays the foundation of the book.  Greg is a soft, middle-class Jewish kid who contrasts starkly with Earl, a black, foul-mouthed teenager, who is one of a handful of step brothers and half brothers scraping by in his virtually absent mother’s household. The odds seem constantly stacked against Earl throughout the book.  However, the pint-sized Earl is often the redeeming factor in the book.  The reader is often dosed with Earl’s thoughtfulness and wisdom beyond his age.  For example, Greg constantly is obsessed with “hot” girls throughout the book.  He’ll only really care about a girl if she is attractive and has, what Earl calls, “big-ass titties.”  I was ready to knock off a star from the book after reading the billionth time that Greg mentions how insane girls are and how he only gives a girl the time of day if she is attractive.  Luckily, Earl steps in and calls Greg out on his shallowness and stupidity. Towards the end of the book, Earl explains how you can only help people who want to help themselves first.  As I had stated earlier, Greg is a severely flawed character, but Earl, the surprise saint wrapped in an underage chain smoker who loves to use “fuck” and “pussy” in every other sentence, is the real hero of this book. Earl is the character who calls out Greg about his shallow behavior and point blank lays it out on the table that being invisible to people and only caring about attractive people doesn’t make you a good person, it makes you, in fact, “shitty.” Outside of the constant quest for “the hot chick,” Greg does have issues that I believe all of us can relate with.  High school IS the worst time in your life.  The percentage of people who loved high school is a very small minority.  Greg faces the common dilemma of fitting in, escaping ridicule, and overall trying to discover where he fits in, and what he should do.  He is self deprecating and tends to hide away any part of himself from high school.

Overall, the book is touching, and leans more towards realistic than inspirational.  If you adore the realistic genre, then I would high recommend this book to you.

4/5 Dragons

Review by: Lyn

10 responses to “Book Review of Me, Earl and and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

  1. This sounds so very good! I like that it is so much more than just a cancer story, I have to admit I was staying away because thoughts of reading a cancer book makes me feel like I’m going to have a heart attack. The topic scares the crap outta me because it has touched my life so much. I like that it sounds like the characters talk like real teenagers! I am always looking for that in my novels, because let’s fact it, no one was very eloquent at that time!

    • I was shocked how the entire “cancer story” took a backseat to the real issues. It might be sick lit, but at least it has spirit. It is written for teens, and I think that it would connect to boys coming of age.

      I am so sorry to hear about your ordeal with cancer. It is never easy to go through something of that nature.

  2. I’m getting more and more into realistic books these days, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about this one. I have it but I haven’t read it yet because I was worried it would be depressing. I should give it a try though.

  3. I have been on this big contemporary kick lately and I may have to add this to the TBR pile. I feel like there is this constant inspirational-ness and Aesop Anvil in most contemporary YA that doesn’t always need to be there. Mostly because it’s unrealistic.

    Also, I admit I lol’d at the haz cancer shelf thing.

    • “Sick lit” (a term coined by John Green’s books) has really flooded the market with sugary sweet and depressing stories. I was happy to see someone else take another direction.

  4. Oooh, you make this sound so good! I’ve heard some other good things, and definitely hope to read this at some point. Too bad the actual dying girl doesn’t get a personality, but oh well. Can’t have everything, I guess!

  5. Amy

    This sounds like a book I would really enjoy I think. I hadn’t really heard much about it so I stayed away from it. I have only read a few books about cancer and though they were good, I don’t tend to pick them up. I still haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars. I like that this is different than most of the other cancer books out there.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge