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

Fair Use image by Amulet Books
Jesse Andrews’ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl lives up to the hype and is worth a read.

Jesse Andrews’ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl instantly sounds like your standard Emotionally Gripping Young Adult Novel™ that the majority of people end up not reading or reading because it was assigned to them. When you actually pick the book up, though, you realize this is not that. Reading the back cover inspires a bit of confidence at first, but the last two lines of the blurb are what properly put Me and Earl and the Dying Girl on my radar. “Then Greg’s mom forces him to become friends with a girl who has cancer. This brings about the destruction of Greg’s entire life.” Okay, well, now I have to read it to see if it lives up to that masterpiece of a blurb. I recently did just that, and I’m happy to say it does.

That quote already explains part of the plot for me, but here’s a more detailed explanation. Greg is a senior at Benson High School in Pittsburgh. He and his sole friend Earl spend their days making movies of varying quality and holding up an aggressive neutrality with every social clique in the school. This neutrality is put into question when Rachel, a girl Greg used to know from a Jewish school he attended, is diagnosed with leukemia, and Greg’s parents want him to get back in touch. This is an awkward arrangement at first, but over time, the two get more comfortable with each other, and Rachel even becomes the first person to see some of Greg and Earl’s films. Unfortunately, in the process, Greg’s very complex social life crumbles, his grades exponentially slip, and Greg ends up making what he himself deems “the worst film ever made”.

Greg’s narration is this book’s biggest strength. His commentary provides a unique and witty personality to the book that wouldn’t be there if the story was just told normally. From his thoughts and theories about certain parts of life to the many flashbacks that he provides when explaining the context behind things, Jesse Andrews plays with the first-person perspective a lot here, to the book’s benefit. Greg will talk at length about his troubles communicating with others, and will occasionally make remarks about the book itself, comparing it negatively to “proper books” that are more profound and have genuine, emotional moments and strong character development. He’ll even announce to the reader which parts of the book he hated writing the most, usually the more embarrassing parts.

This book also lives up to the hilarious nature of the back cover. Here’s one of my favorite parts (pg. 161-162) to show you the type of humor this book employs:

“I’ve learned over the years that basically anything can get anyone in the Jackson house enraged.

Cause: Madden 08 disc is scratched

Effect: Maxwell hurls Brandon into the television

Cause: Humidity

Effect: Felix uses Derrick’s forehead to inflict damage on Devin’s face

Cause: There is a bird outside

Effect: Brandon strides around aiming blows indiscriminately at people’s testicles”

It helps that Greg is at least an interesting character. He can be pretty selfish at times and makes questionable decisions often, but he calls himself out when he screws up and is always trying to be at least a decent person. He’s been making movies with his friend Earl for years, but never really saw himself as a skilled creator, and never seriously thinks about making it a career. Like I said before, we get to see a lot of the way this guy thinks through his telling of the story, which definitely helps to make him more likable, and is where a lot of the book’s comedy stems from.

This is normally the part where the tone switches and the reviewer starts talking about how “this is where the execution falls flat” or something like that, but in this case, there’s nothing bad to mention. The book is very focused, and there’s no annoying side characters or asinine filler. It tells the story it wants to tell in a fun but grounded manner, and it’s the first time in a long time that I was actively choosing to read a book, even when I wasn’t supposed to! If that doesn’t show you that this is a dang good book, it’s a mystery as to what does. I mean, I would say Rachel could’ve been developed a lot more, as she’s more of a plot device than an individual a lot of the time, but it makes sense, cause that’s how Greg saw her. He never really learned too much about Rachel, he just made her laugh to fulfill his making-a-cancer-patient-happy responsibility. Man, there really is nothing to criticize here.

Is it one of the best books I’ve ever read? Well, depends on your mindset, because I may have read books much more profound and that I took much more away from, but I have never laughed this much while reading a book. So I suppose it is one of the best. It wins the HAHA! Award for making me say HAHA! Actually, that award would go to Lil Wayne’s album Rebirth, which might be the most fantastically terrible attempt at a rock/hip-hop fusion of all time. This is not that. I was laughing with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, not at it. So I suppose I’ll just give it 5 stars then. Even if that’s a bit of a stretch.


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