Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

296p. CIP. Abrams/Amulet. 2012. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-4197-0176-4; ebook $16.95. ISBN 978-1-6131-2306-5. LC 2011031796.
Gr 9 Up—This debut novel is told from the point of view of intensely self-critical Greg S. Gaines, an aspiring filmmaker. A self-described pasty-faced failure with girls, the 17-year-old spends most of his time with his friend Earl, a foul-mouthed kid from the wrong side of town, watching classic movies and attempting to create their own cinematic masterpieces. When Greg's mother learns that Rachel, one of his classmates, has been diagnosed with leukemia, she encourages him to rekindle the friendship that started and ended in Hebrew school. While Greg promises that his story will contain "zero Important Life Lessons," his involvement with Rachel as her condition worsens nonetheless has an impact. In a moment of profundity, however, Greg also argues, "things are in no way more meaningful because I got to know Rachel before she died. If anything, things are less meaningful." Andrews makes use of a variety of narrative techniques to relate the story: scenes are presented in screenplay format and facts are related as numbered and elaborated-upon lists that are tied together by a first-person narrative divided into chapters indicated with self-deprecating titles (e.g., "I put the 'Ass' in 'Casanova'"). While the literary conceit—that the protagonist could be placed in a traditionally meaningful situation and not grow—is irreverent and introduced with a lot of smart-alecky humor, the length of the novel (overly long) and overuse of technique end up detracting from rather than adding to the story.—Amy S. Pattee, Simmons College, Boston
"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." Self-deprecating and cynical in the extreme, high school senior Greg says he's writing the opposite of a "sappy tear-jerking" cancer story and offers up a funny, profane, and, despite his supposed best efforts, poignant narrative.
An outstanding novel that is both endearingly absurd and brutally honest. Its laugh-out-loud humor, quick pacing, and surprising profundity will appeal to a wide range of readers. Greg is a keen observer of human behavior and has a gift for self-deprecation, though he’s socially inept. When his mother guilts him into hanging out with Rachel, a friend from sixth grade recently diagnosed with leukemia, the results are hilariously awkward. Earl, foul-mouthed, angry, and assertive, is essentially Greg’s opposite. As Greg says, “our friendship makes no sense at all.” But their relationship, built around a shared sense of humor and affection for strange foreign films, is true to life. And Earl’s way of cutting right to the hard truth of a situation provides a necessary counterpoint to Greg’s sheepishness. Throughout the book, Greg presents events from his life in the form of short screenplays. These scenes add to the novel’s lively, contemporary tone. They also tie in well with one of the major themes: Greg’s tendency to view his life at a remove in order to protect himself from harm. Jesse Andrews avoids melodrama and moralizing clichés as Rachel’s health declines. Swept up in making a movie about Rachel’s life, Greg panics at his inability to fully empathize or produce something worthy of her and the ordeal she is facing. The outcome is a captivating disaster that is both funny and gut wrenching.

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