Take what would arguably be the most popular YA book published in 2012, and instead of portraying teens facing terminal cancer with intelligently wrought insight and dignity, make them neurotically self-loathing and idiotically funny. In fact, have the main character boldly suggest that “This book contains precisely zero Important Life Lessons . . . .“ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews is that book.
Are you an unequivocal lover of The Fault in Our Stars and wondering why you would even bother with a novel that is the antithesis of everything that is John Green’s book? Or perhaps you find John Green’s novels pretentious and unrealistic. Regardless of your point of view, as long as lowbrow body humor and swearing don’t alarm you, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl offers another look at dying young, in a surprisingly comic and poignant way. Unlike The Fault in Our Stars, which caused uncontrollable sobbing, reading Me and Earl and the Dying Girl had me laughing out loud despite a grim plotline that only got more hysterical as the story progressed.
Greg Gaines, the narrator, is a pasty, overweight seventeen-year-old living in an upper middle class Jewish home. Greg’s lone friend is Earl, a short, black, angry high school senior from a sketchy part of town who bonded with Greg over violent video games in kindergarten and now shares his passion for filmmaking. Think of them as a young Woody Allen and Spike Lee. The “dying girl” is Rachel, who Greg befriended in Hebrew school six years earlier in order to get close to her much hotter friend. Forced to visit Rachel after she is diagnosed with leukemia, Greg recounts their friendship and the events leading up to the making of “Rachel the film.”
Greg’s distinctive voice comically relates his most absurd thoughts and actions, many of which are written in script format. Reluctantly revealing the details of his friendship with Earl, their early films, and Rachel’s illness, Greg’s sarcastic self-assessments run along the lines of “Let’s Just Get This Embarrassing Chapter Out of the Way” and “I Put the ‘Idiot’ in ‘Videotape’.” Maybe I’ve spent too much time in the company of teenage boys, but I enjoyed Greg’s obsessive and snarky voice. The sexually tinged humor and slapstick antics keep the pacing fast, and the unsentimental, self-deprecating tone is down-to-earth and relatable. Give this book to any teen who is a budding filmmaker, a Monty Python fan, or one who tells you their life is in the pits. This is comic medicine.