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The Streetlight Reader

Just another 23 year old from Toronto who enjoys reading Adult fiction, YA Fiction and Non-Fiction. Okay I read anything I think is worth reading :).

Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - Jesse Andrews

Cover Gushing Worthiness:I simply adore the cover of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. The illustrations, the typography and the colours give off a fun and endearing quality to the book. It’s an awesome cover for a new favourite book.

Review :

You may have already figured out that it’s about a girl who had cancer. So there’s a chance you're thinking “Awesome! This is going to be a wise and insightful story about love and death and growing up. It is probably going to make cry literally the entire time. I am so fired up right now.” If that is an accurate representation of your thoughts, you should probably try to smush this book into garbage disposal and then run away. Because here’s the thing: I learned absolutely nothing from Rachel’s leukemia. In fact, I probably became stupider about life because of the whole thing.

If you're planning on reading this book thinking that it’s going to be like John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, then you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. Like Greg says, this book is anything but TFioS esque. I first heard about this book from Stacey over at Pretty Books and then I watched Raeleen's Video about the book. In the end I decided to buy it and I’m so happy I did because its amazing!

Narrated by Greg S. Gaines, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl follows Greg, a senior in High School who is happy to be invisible in High School, Earl who is his “co-worker” and they create movies together. Rachel, a girl from Greg’s High School and Hebrew School when he’ was younger has been diagnosed with Leukemia. Greg is then forced to spend time with her. Throughout the book we’re open to Greg’s thoughts about everything and anything about his whole experience.

Plot wise I really enjoyed this story. I loved it for its honesty and humour, despite it being so crude. It is not a book that forces you to feel sorry for Rachel. While Rachel is the character in the centre because Greg is talking about his experiences in relation to Leukemia, the story is very much Greg’s since we see how he is constantly battling with himself over his feelings towards Rachel’s illness. While A Monster Calls left me in a state of constant tears, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl moved me in its realistic portrayal towards some deaths we encounter in our lives. Not all the time are people going to be moved by deaths during certain moments of life, yet there are those moments that death profoundly moves people in ways that were unexpected. I think that’s one of the main strengths of this novel; its ability to portray the different stages in life where death truly has an impact on you,especially in the life of a teenager. Apart from its realistic look at cancer and death, what makes this book successful and appealing is its humor. I admit that sometimes the humor is so random and disgusting to the point where you it makes you go “WHAT?!” and of course there’s a multitude of swearing going on, which might turn off some readers. I’m not someone who is fond of swearing and I personally try my best not to swear if possible, however without the swearing this book would lose its magic because it’s so much a part of Greg and Earl’s characters. Almost every page had cuss words, often appearing more than five times, but it made you laugh so much. I will say that the humor is very much teenage boy humor where there’s constant references to breasts and other genital areas, but like I said it makes you go “WHAT” and you'll most likely find yourself laughing so hard and trying to figure out a way to stop. I was a little surprised and disappointed at the end, but I understood it because it was another indication that even in the smallest ways death has a way of changing a person, even though they may stubbornly say that it did not. Another element that I really liked in this book was how the story was written at times using script format. It made perfect sense since Greg loves making movies. The typography and the titles for the chapters too were great and ridiculous.

I adore both Greg and Earl as characters. Greg is such a weird, honest and endearing narrator. He had me laughing from start to finish because of the things he says. I’ve talked about the honesty in this book a lot and it’s what makes Greg such a great narrator. He leaves no stone unturned in his experience. He tells you the truth; the awkwardness he feels around Rachel at times, the lack of emotion he feels towards Rachel and Leukemia, his fear and confusion; everything is laid out in front of the reader. As a reader you do empathize with Greg because of the honesty he shows, despite his constant rantings about how horrible this book is and how he has no clue why he keeps on writing it. One of the passages that has stayed with me, not because it’s profoundly moving or anything , but because it made me raise my eyebrows a little bit.

Marla Weissman Gaines is very Jewish. She is the executive director of Ahvat Ha’Emet, a nonprofit that sends Jewish teenagers to Israel to work on a kibbutz and lose their virginity. I should point out that the virginity-losing part is not technically in the mission statement of Ahavat Ha’Emet. I’m just saying, you do not leave Israel without getting laid. You could have an eight-inch-thick titanium diaper bolted to your pelivs, and you would still somehow get laid. It should be their official tourism slogan: Israel. Where Virginity Goes to Die. 

Israelis get it on.

Greg was also believable because he is so flawed as a character. There are times when even you think “can’t you have at least a little sympathy”, but his character development is so well done. You see him go through different stages in his experience with Rachel and with Earl and they’re moving and hilarious all at the same time. Sure you do want to dislike him at times, but surprisingly as a reader I didn’t want him to change. He set the tone in the beginning of the book that he didn’t change. I personally think he did change, he just wasn’t aware of it.

Where do I even start with Earl. Earl is in a constant state of pissed off which has varying levels depending on the scenario. Out of the two Earl is definitely the one with more of a crude sense of humor and he constantly reminded me of one of those gifs which has the saying “ain’t nobody got time for that.” Yet the funny thing is that in comparison to Greg, Earl actually cares. I wish we got to see his character develop more because towards the halfway point of the book it did feel like Earl took a backseat, but there are somethings that he said that me laugh and tell my brother. One of the things that he says is about Rachel when she goes for Chemotherapy and it made me have a “WHAT” moment.

oh i went to see your girl again
she got a bald-a** head right now
she look like darth vader without the helmet
chemo is no joke son.

Yes Earl really does say things that are disgusting and may make some wonder what is going on in the minds of teenage boys (I think we've all wondered that at some point), but he says some things that are profound. That you wouldn't expect him of all people to say. One of the things he says is

You don’t know s*** man. I hate to get on you for this. I’m not getting on you for this, but I’m just telling you. This is the first…negative thing that has happened to you in your life. And you can’t be overreacting to it and making big-ass expensive decisions based on it. I’m just saying. People die. Other people do stupid s***. I’m surrounded by family members doing stupid s***. I used to think I had to do s*** for them. I still wanna do s*** for them. But you gotta live your own life. You gotta take care a your own s*** before you get started doing things for errybody else.”

When Earl talked about his own family I really felt for him, like I hadn’t in the beginning of the book. In the beginning it did feel like he was used for comedic purposes, but then it was like he had some “way of the force” moment and I think I began to understand him. It felt like making movies was his escape from his broken family life and once he realized that he owed it to himself to have a better life, he took matters into his own hands. I liked the unconventional friendship between Greg and Earl.

As for Rachel, she did feel like a secondary character despite Greg’s whole book revolving around her and his experience being friends with her. In all honesty I was indifferent towards her. She wasn't like Hazel from TFioS who I really did dislike. It wasn't that Rachel was a bad character, which she wasn't at all, but because she wasn't prominent it was difficult to come to terms with what you should feel for her. I think Rachel signified that not everyone could go to battle with cancer so to speak. There are some battles that you just can’t win and going for chemotherapy as well as stopping chemotherapy is very much a personal decision. In a way I admired her for her decisions because she was strong enough in her own way to accept death for what it is, instead of trying to fight it off which would cause her more pain and grief.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Me and Earl and the Dying Girl for its unique way of portraying Cancer. I was moved by Greg and Earl in a way I probably thought impossible for a book with such humour. I’m not sure if fans of TFioS would necessarily like it because of the humor and because of Greg, but I still encourage taking a chance on this book. Jesse Andrews did a fantastic job with his debut book and I can't wait to read his future works.

My Rating: 5/5

Would I recommend it? Absolutely