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Me and Earl and The Dying Girl: Review
First, if you are looking for a meaningful, tear-jerking book about cancer, this is not the book you want to read. But it will make you cry. If you're looking for a book that contemplates the meaning of life and leaves you in a state of existential crisis, this is not the book for you. But it will make you think about life and death in perhaps a new perspective.
Those notes aside, let me just say this is one of the oddest books I have ever read in my life.
The narrator, an unlikable little snot named Greg Gaines, is forced to befriend a girl he was somewhat-not-really-friends-with in middle school by his mom when it's found out that the girl, Rachel, has leukemia. While he attempts to (awkwardly and badly) comfort her, his best friend Earl shows her their secret homemade movies that they began filming when they were kids--basically, awful action movies with no scripts or plot.
Again, this sounds heartwarming, but it really isn't. Greg resents the fact that Earl went behind his back and he hates that his social status is being ruined by befriending Rachel. Greg isn't popular by any means--but he blends in and avoids conflict by not having any friends besides Earl, and having Rachel as a friend and the thought of having people find out about his movies threatens his security.
This narrator is one of the most unlikable characters a reader could possibly come across. He's whiny and indecisive and insecure and selfish. But he's also realistic beyond belief. He has aspects of his personality that the reader can relate to, even if they're ones people normally wouldn't be proud of. There are so many layers to Greg that it's impossible not to relate to him in some way, be it his heavy sarcasm, his painfully awkward and non-funny jokes, or his many insecurities.
Earl is Greg's best friend who has made films with him since they were children. He has the most vile mouth out of any character in the book--maybe any character in any book--and is angry and short and angry because he's short. But he's also one of the most likable characters in the book. He's bold where Greg is not, he's selfless and kind and knows what he wants to do and how to do it. He and Greg are the perfect foils for each other, even if they're not the perfect of friends.
The most disappointing part about this book was the fact that the reader barely gets to find out anything about Rachel at all. In the scheme of things it makes sense, since Greg is narrating the book and he barely knows her, but it would be nice to see a short blurb or book from her perspective. From what the book tells of her, she loves to laugh but she's not a fighter. She's not bold or brave, but more reserved and thoughtful.
As a whole, there's not a lot to the actual plot of this book. There are no huge scandals or fights or big disasters--and yet, it still keeps you reading.
Greg's biggest conflicts are himself and his mom. Which, really, the only reason his mom becomes an issue is because of Greg's own issues. He struggles constantly with his own inner monologue and is so infuriatingly insecure that even the reader winds up wanting to come through the pages and slap some sense into him.
Even after he befriends Rachel, Greg remains almost unlikable, but there's still the keen interest to see what happens; whether Rachel lives or dies, whether Greg ends up changing for the better, whether or not Greg and Earl make an awesome movie and become famous. (Spoiler: they don't.)
It's so realistic that it's almost disappointing. But it also reminds the reader that they really shouldn't be disappointed--it's a stark reminder of the difference between reality and fantasy. Although this book is fiction, it's so realistic that it could have easily really happened. These people could have actually lived and gone through these things, but they're so simple and unimportant in the grand scheme of things that no one would have heard about it.
This writing style is one you have to love or hate. That being said, it is brilliant in the scheme of the book. There are areas where the book is written like a screenplay. At first this is off-putting, but it's genius since the book is written by Greg, who would want to skim over boring parts (and because he's somewhat lazy), and he's a film nut.
That being said, the only stipulation I personally have about this book is the ending, when it is revealed who Greg writes the book for college. For some reason, it doesn't really make sense. Why would Greg write a book to try to get into college instead of, say, an essay? Or do an interview with the dean?
That put aside, everything else in this book works so well together it's like it really is a true story, because for all the readers know, it could be. Someone, somewhere, could have had an experience similar to this, and that's what makes it so intriguing.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Character Quiz
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The best aspect of this book is the realistic simplicity of it. When Earl and Greg fight, there's no long, drawn-out shoving or punching. There's a punch and that's it; like real life, they're not expert fighters. They're just kids who happen to get in a fight over something.
Often people shy away when someone says "Oh, this is an instant classic!" or "This is the next [classic movie from the 80's]", but if there is a book out right now that could possibly become a classic, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has a good run at it.