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Iris on Books

Iris is a PhD student and book blogger who's favourite pastime is curling up under a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book.

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - Jesse Andrews [based on a review copy from Netgalley]
Review originally posted here: http://irisonbooks.com/2012/04/06/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-by-jesse-andrews/

Honestly, it was the cover that made me request this book from Netgalley. It looks fun and quirky with its self-made cardboard cut-out look. And that fits the story of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl rather well. In it, Greg and Earl make movies together, that are often mock-versions of movies that they enjoyed. They keep these movies a secret, because they believe they are not any good, and they want to maintain social invisibility. Rachel, a girl suffering from Leukemia, is the only one who finds out about the movies, in an attempt to cheer her up. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide that they should make a movie especially for Rachel.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a very different take on the teenager-suffering-from-cancer story. It sets out to be unlike those stories of tragedy, hope, and life lessons. As Greg, the narrator, tells us:

“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.”

The story means to be funny, irreverent, at times. There is a lot of self-deprecation of Greg, and Earl, of the reader, and of the story Greg is relating throughout the book. There is a bit of the stream of consciousness feel to the book, because Greg hardly seems to censor his words. Greg is telling us his story, as if he’s in conversation with the reader instead of writing a book. This leads to quip funny scenario’s, such as the first line of the book that sets the tone for the rest of the book:

“So in order to understand everything that happened, you need to start from the premise that high school sucks.”

Added to this is a form of metadiscussion on stories, stories for teenagers, appropriate word use, the right build-up to stories (that Greg clearly, at least he thinks so himself, does not follow). And so, you can often find Greg telling you that you are stupid for still reading his story at all:

“And that’s part of the backstory for me and Earl. It’ll probably be relevant later, although who really knows. I can’t believe you’re still reading this. You should smack yourself in the face a couple of times right now, just to complete the outstandingly stupid experience that is this book.”

Clearly, Earl and Me and the Dying Girl is meant to be funny. But the thing is, for me it did not always succeed. Now, I have to tell you that I am pretty sure Greg and I do not share the same sort of humour. It is often a little crass, a little too dry, and has lots of words like “boobs” in it that are meant to be funny. Especially the crass words bothered me a lot. I can see how they might be funny to some, but at times, there was a lot of boobs, and shit, and ass, and whatever thrown around for no reason, repeatedly. Sometimes the story revolved around those words for pages at a time.. I should also add that I know that many other reviewers found themselves laughing out loud repeatedly while reading the story. Not me, though. I mostly found myself getting tired of it fast, and couldn’t read Me and Earl and the Dying Girl for long periods at a time.

Then there is the other thing: For at least half of the story little to nothing happens. There are lists of Greg’s social rules, there are plot summaries of movies, there are Earl and Greg joking with each other, but you don’t really know what is going to happen, at least not beside the fact that you know from the very first that a girl called Rachel is probably going to die. In the second half, some things do happen, but in the midst of it all, Greg undergoes little-to-no character development. It is not as if the reader had not been warned about this, and continues to be warned about it throughout the book, but at times it made me wonder if stories are not written with character development and moments of revelation for a reason. Perhaps this is the very thing the book sets out to do. In a way, I think it is. To some extent, I think it succeeds very well in being the anti-story, probably meant to be read in small chunks at a time. I just cannot say I enjoyed all of it.

What I did appreciate were Greg’s observations on life in high school, and the strange acrobatics he puts himself through to be liked by everyone, but not befriend anyone to avoid becoming part of a clique is refreshing because it portrays how stifling high school can be to some.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a book for those who enjoy anti-stories about anti-heroes featuring dry humour and a self-deprecating narrator. However, personally, I think there was a little too much of all that to enjoy it. I think my advice would be to read the first few pages and see if you enjoy the tone, because it does not change much over the course of the book.