“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” a charming if unorthodox read

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews is the contemporary comedy cult classic story of high school senior Greg Gaines. Greg is an introvert posing as an extrovert. He is friendly with everyone, but deliberately friends with no one and has gone his whole life unscathed. When his mother learns that Rachel, an old classmate of Greg’s, is dying of leukemia, she strong-arms Greg into reconnecting with her and making her last few months an adventure.

This is one of those books that reads best out loud, if only to drive the punchlines home. No one is more tired of the cancer-centric tearjerker trend in pop culture than I am, so when I say that I liked this, even I’m surprised. Greg is an interesting main character, often breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the reader to roll his eyes at his own situation and mess ups, and let me tell you that this novel was soaked in the best kind of sarcasm. He has such a funny, cringe-worthy kind of honesty in his narration, I like that he called out melodramatic cliches that we have come to expect from cancer-centric stories and was upfront about just how terrible of a person he could be. In fact, he never let himself get away with much of anything, even when the reader could have sympathized and let it slide. For all of his flaws, Greg was incredibly relatable, and when I didn’t want to smack him, I wanted to hug him. Earl -Greg’s coworker with whom he makes dozens of awful movie spoofs- was easily my favorite character. There’s nothing I didn’t love about him and his no nonsense attitude when Greg needed a solid kick in the head.

This novel addressed its heavier themes (social alienation, cancer/death, complicated home lives ect.) with honesty. I appreciated that it didn’t gloss over the harder issues, though Andrews definitely could have better fleshed out some of his ideas. An interesting aspect to the book itself is the format being almost entirely like that of a movie script. It was fun, unique and helped me fly through this book.

However, I did find quite a few flaws in the story. A lot of characters like Rachel, for example, felt severely underdeveloped. You could chalk that up to a deliberate choice by Andrews seeing as he has Greg admitting he doesn’t try to get to know people, but it was still all kinds of frustrating with such a narrow focus on Greg’s side of the story. As interesting as Greg is, he is by no means interesting enough to carry this story, but it works for awhile. Greg’s kind of humor was at times overly juvenile and gross-out, so that was off-putting. It wasn’t overly distracting, because though only half of Greg’s jokes made me laugh, when they worked, man did they work. The plot started out strong at the beginning, but felt aimless for the second half of the book when the story didn’t go at all like I predicted. It was like Andrews had a clear beginning and end to the story, but wasn’t sure how to write a cohesive middle.

Overall, I enjoyed myself while reading this. I had plenty of giggle fits and full body cringe attacks at the sheer awkwardness of some of Greg, Earl and Rachel’s shenanigans. While I felt like the character insight was lacking and the plot itself was unpolished, I would definitely recommend this to anyone open to an even mix of sharp wit and toilet humor, and looking for mature themes. The much anticipated movie adaptation for this hits theaters Fri. June 12 and I’m dying to see how this translates to the big screen.

Verdict: 3.5/5 stars