Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
By Jesse Andrews
Published 2012 by Harry N. Abrams
Audience: 14 and up
2013 Cybils Award for Young-Adult Fiction
I was pleasantly surprised by Jesse Andrews’ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. My fears arose after all the hoopla around YA extraordinaire John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars. I didn’t know if I had it in me to read another book about a young girl dying from cancer, or a sad young romance blossoming despite death. No sir. I’m done. But Andrews’ book was different.
Greg Gaines is in his senior year of high school. He has managed to avoid confrontation with anyone and friendship with anyone by seamlessly slipping between the social constructs of high school. He can wave to the jocks, fist bump the stoners, and nod to the goths. His only friend (or coworker, as Greg calls him) is Earl. They make remakes of films together that only they watch. He moves through life quietly until his mother forces him to hang out with an old childhood friend, Rachel, who is diagnosed with leukemia. Socially awkward Greg finds himself in the most uncomfortable social situation: entertaining a dying girl. Matters only get more complicated when Earl shows Rachel their films.
What I truly loved about this book is that it wasn’t shoving any life truths or lessons down your throat. Andrews’ writing style is humorous and the main character, Greg, is lovable in his self-loathing. It also made me want to check out some classic films. But overall, Andrews brings humor to tragedy with strong and believable characters. Earl was one of my favorite characters with his blunt attitude and wit. I hate to keep comparing to John Green, but the differences in their presentation of a girl dying of cancer is stark. I have heard readers of John Green’s books say how they wish they could know even one of his characters in real life. I feel like with Jesse Andrews book, you already know several people like his main characters. They are regular, flawed people and that made the book very readable.
A real shock came for me when I watched the movie. There were some subtle differences, but I found that I loved the movie equally as much as the book! I know! That rarely happens, but then again, Jesse Andrews did write the screenplay.
I would definitely recommend this book to high schoolers. Librarians, be prepared though. The book is full of cursing and swearing, and there is a very funny scene of drug use. Overall, fabulous and inventive writing from a book that could have fallen into the genre of an “illness romance” a-la A Walk to Remember. Jesse Andrews flipped the YA illness novel on it’s head and other authors should take note. (And watch the movie if you get a chance!)