I read a really great book last week…
I had just finished the epic ending to an epic trilogy, and needed something a little lighter. I got what I wished for … sort of.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews was an easy read: short, relatable, endlessly hilarious–but I’m not sure I’d call it light.
First, the synopsis from Goodreads.
Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.
Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.
Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.
And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.
So I wasn’t necessarily in the market for a “cancer book” and in general don’t seek them out (though I do love The Fault in Our Stars, which this has been compared to.) But the voice of this book sucked me in from the start:
So in order to understand everything that happened, you have to start from the premise that high school sucks. Do you accept that premise? Of course you do. It is a universally acknowledged truth that high school sucks. In fact, high school is where we are first introduced to the basic existential question of life: How is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad?
I accept this premise, and was therefore sucked in.
1. THE VOICE It’s not for everyone, and most of the negative reviews I’ve seen had to do with the “annoying” narrator, but I loved Greg’s voice. As I’ve said before I think I will always be an immature teenager at heart.
I’m not really putting this very well. My point is this: This book contains precisely zero Important Life Lessons, or Little-Known Facts About Love, or sappy tear-jerking Moments When We Knew We Had Left Our Childhood Behind for Good, or whatever. And, unlike most books in which a girl gets cancer, there are definitely no sugary paradoxical single-sentence-paragraphs that you’re supposed to think are deep because they’re in italics. Do you know what I’m talking about? I’m talking about sentences like this:
The cancer had taken her eyeballs, yet she saw the world with more clarity than ever before.
Barf. Forget it. For me personally, things are in no way more meaningful because I got to know Rachel before she died. If anything, things are less meaningful. All right?
2. The characters All of them. Greg was sympathetic, his family was real and hilarious, Earl was incredibly entertaining, and while Rachel herself was definitely not a barrel of laughs, she felt real. They all did.
3. It was SO FUNNY I direct you simply to this tweet, which the author himself actually retweeted.
4. IT WAS SO REAL If you’re looking for a love story, this isn’t it. It was simply an incredibly realistic portrayal of what could actually happen in high school.
So. If this was some normal fictional young-adult book, this is the part of the story where after the film, the entire high school would rise to their feet and applaud, and Earl and I would find True Acceptance and begin to Truly Believe in Ourselves and Rachel would somehow miraculously make a recovery, or maybe she would die but we would Always Have Her to Thank for Making Us Discover Our Inner Talent, and Madison would become my girlfriend and I would get to nuzzle her boobs like an affectionate panda cub whenever I wanted.
That is why fiction sucks. None of that happened. Instead, pretty much everything happened that I was afraid of, except worse.
The less good (there’s not much):
1. It was a little anticlimactic It just kind of ended. And I know that was the point and all, but I guess I wanted a little more of a resolution. (The movie gives you a more typical resolution. More on that later.)
2. It got a little too voice-y at times I think it was the overuse of the word “barf” that bugged me the most.
3. It was too short I wanted more about Greg’s sisters and his dad and Earl and his brothers and everything else. I wanted to stay in this world a little longer.
A departure from my regular book review format:
After reading the book, I went on to watch the movie. It had apparently won a bunch of awards and the screenplay was written by the author himself, and so I figured it must be pretty good. It was. The actors were well-cast, for the most part–I especially loved Earl. The cinematography was fantastic, especially the way they showed Greg and Earl’s movies. The script was perfect.
My only gripe–the same gripe I have with the Harry Potter movies–is that they cast this beautiful actress in the role of Rachel, where in the book it’s explicitly stated that she’s unattractive. (They did the same with Hermione.) Look, it’s rare to read about unattractive female main characters in fiction. But it’s even rarer to see them on screen. Awkward little girls need to see something other than beautiful girls in the media because it helps them feel less shitty about themselves during the supremely shitty time of life that is adolescence. Also girls should be valued for more than their looks. I discuss this at length in this post, so I’ll end my rant here.
But overall, I loved the book, and very much liked the movie, and you should go read this book and see this move, and then please come back here so we can discuss.
Image taken from the movie in which you can see how beautiful the actress who plays Rachel is