It’s a shame that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl gets lumped in with John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Even though both are excellent novels involving a person dying of cancer, both are about vastly different things. Both have a vastly different tone, too - instead of Green’s warmth and earnestness, here life is more confused and bitter and darkly funny and deeply personal, which is more like how I remember high school. An unmotivated senior, Greg Gaines tries to stay under the radar and just survive the day unscathed. His goal is to drift through the year and deliberately keeps himself away from committing to friends or one of the many school cliques, because belonging to a clique gets you noticed, and being noticed makes you a target. He has no close friends except for Earl, a short, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking teen. They have little in common except for their love of foreign film – the more old and obscure, the better. Together, they take a camera and film their own cheaply made, absurd homages to their favorite films in their backyards, which they then seal away and keep hidden from friends and family – again, being known for something makes you a target, right? This goes on until Greg’s mom forces him to befriend Rachel, who has rapidly advancing leukemia. Greg knows Rachel from school only faintly, but against his better judgment, he tentatively makes contact, and they start a relationship.
In another book – one by John Green, for example – they would fall in love and Greg would help Rachel battle her leukemia and together they would have a tragic, epic, doomed romance that would leave the reader an emotional wreck. This isn’t that book, though. This story isn’t about Rachel, even though she’s obviously the dying girl of the title. This story is really about becoming an artist, and how art needs to engage with the world instead of turning away from it. Rachel is an important part of this process. She finds out about the movies that Greg and Earl make. She loves them, and she is instrumental in bringing these movies – and Greg’s creative talent – out of the darkness and into the light.
A great book for both adult and YA crowds, author Jesse Andrews completely nails Greg’s voice: equal parts desperate, confessional, caring, angry, and profane, and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Andrews often shakes up the flow of the novel, slipping into a bullet point or screenwriting style, but it never detracts from the book. The end result is as authentic a novel about teenagers I’ve come across in a while. I can’t WAIT to see the film, which is getting great reviews, and should be out soon locally at the time of this writing.