As a tie-in with the movie a couple of years ago, the publisher was giving away copies of Jesse Andrews’ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl at Book Expo. I ended up not seeing the movie or reading the book until this last week, and not damn if I’m not kicking myself for reading this earlier.
Greg is a kid with no ties in high school. He likes it that way — he can float around with no group affiliation and just marginally stay out of trouble that way. He has a friend, Earl, who barely has parents and smokes and peppers his language with curse words regularly. They are film aficionados, and they bond over watching and making films. Those films, though, are never presented or shared. That is, until one of Greg’s classmates, Rachel, receives a cancer diagnosis and Greg’s mom makes him befriend her. She gets her hands on these films and they bring her joy. Unfortunately for Greg, this sets off a chain of events that make the knowledge of his filmmaking public and changes the events of his last months in high school. And not, I might add, for the better.
I was quite pleasantly surprised by how humorous I found this book. Not every book that purports itself to be a comedy about cancer is actually funny. Andrews’ protagonist, Greg, is hilariously amazing. I completely understood him as a character very early on, because Andrews’ character development is fully on point. I imagine he must be a teenager at heart because his characters were fully, entirely three dimensional and incredibly real. I know Earl; I’ve seen him and met him and he was painted with such a fine tip that I got him. Rachel is important but somewhat minor; her illness is sad for sure, but it’s more of a vehicle to understand Greg than it was about her dying.
This book was just so funny. It’s not a traditional kind of funny, but more of a snarky and “catch me if you can” kind of funny. Greg is odd, and that’s what makes him so likeable. His telling of this story in differing formats, including as a screenplay at times, made the story enjoyable and easy to relate to. After all, who doesn’t envision their lives as part of a movie? I’m holding on to this book to put on my son’s shelf when he becomes of age to read it. I think he will enjoy it as much as I did.