Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews (March 1, 2012, Amulet Books)
Review by Kenzie Helene
There are some books you read for intellectual purposes. Books with layers of meaning, making you think deeply about the philosophy of life and how you’d like to live yours. Books that make you cry or laugh, or generally change the paradigm you view the world through. They’re usually layered with intense words, phrases that provoke thought whether or not the reader wants them to.
Then there are books like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Even while it includes all of the themes, despite the main character arguing that it absolutely doesn’t, it is a book that is fun to read. It definitely is not one of the books that you would see on a high school curriculum, even though students would probably relate to it more than Macbeth or Of Mice and Men. The best part is reading it right as the semester ends, as a glorious rebuttal to all that learning they made you do for fifteen weeks.
Greg Gaines gets through high school by maintaining connections with everyone, not enough to make friends, but enough to make sure that he is bullied by no one. As a flabby kid with a rat face, he thinks that this is the best way to survive until graduation day. Of course, he does have one friend, a guy named Earl with whom he makes movies. Gloriously bad movies.
He’s going through his senior year with the best of luck. He’s at the top of the food chain and there is nothing to stop him. Until his mom tells him that his ex-girlfriend, Rachel, has leukemia. Greg is convinced that this means nothing to him, especially since there relationship ended years ago. Still, Greg starts hanging out with Rachel to appease his mother. Earl, of course, tags along. As his relationship with Rachel develops into real friendship, he is cornered into making her a film, one that showcases how good his skills are. Greg’s senior year veers from being about invisibility to everyone knowing who exactly he is, whether he likes it or not.
William Wordsworth attempted to change poetry, to write it in “the language of man” for all to enjoy it. Jesse Andrews takes this a step further and writes in the language of a male teenager. The interactions between Earl and Greg are exactly the way that my lunch table used to talk, the innuendos, the overabundance of swearing, and the general grunts being able to be deciphered only by others the same age. Greg’s mindset is exactly the one that I saw a lot of people take in my high school, where they avoided bullying by avoiding friendship. From the moment I started reading his narrative, I clicked with Greg as if he attended my senior year with me.
Greg is a character that constantly insists that the book contains absolutely no themes. From the beginning to the end, he is reassuring the reader that he has learned absolutely nothing from this experience and the book is just a waste of time. He actually insults the reader for continuing passing through the pages instead of setting it down. It’s just so funny, but doesn’t distract from the fact that he actually had changed from knowing Rachel.
In all, the book is one that I’d recommend not only to those who read often, but those who normally don’t read. If you have a teenage boy in the house that hasn’t picked up a book since Captain Underpants, then Me and Earl and the Dying Girl might be the novel to trick them back into reading AND enjoying it.