Author: Jesse Andrews
Publication Date: 3/1/12
Publisher: Amulet Books
Blurb (GR): Seventeen-year-old Greg has managed to become part of every social group at his Pittsburgh high school without having any friends, but his life changes when his mother forces him to befriend Rachel, a girl he once knew in Hebrew school who has leukemia.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was my second "cancer book" in as many months. Although both Jesse Andrews and John Green had the same intention - to write a story about cancer that was different from those other tearjerky novels, in my eyes, Andrews was much more successful at stepping away from melodrama and cliches of the genre than Green. Of course, Andrews does not (yet) have a publicity platform of Green's magnitude to promote his novel, so I am glad to be able to help him out a little, because, from my perspective, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a better, more honest, more real book than The Fault in Our Stars.
It is better mainly because it does not try to force you into feeling all the obvious things we are expected to feel reading stories about young, terminally ill characters. There is a certain compulsion to idealize cancer kids, lives ending so tragically early and all that. It is also pretty common to practically guilt you into feeling sorry for their specific predicament. But I like that Andrews allows his characters, even his hero, to be resentful and maybe indifferent towards or burdened by the illness, that his cancer-stricken patient is not an ever-so-wise, heroic saint, that there are maybe no life lessons to learn from such personal tragedies. Maybe having a dying girl in your life is just an event that will affect you in a major way, or maybe it will not and that would be okay, too.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is not all about cancer though, in fact, the dying girl subplot plays only a relatively small part in Greg's story. It is more about Greg defining himself, stopping to play so safe, about bringing a little more focus onto his future and about understanding of who he is. The author might be a little coy repeating again and again in his narrative that there is no point to this novel, but there is one.
Another good thing about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is that it is very funny. The success of the book with a reader will depend a lot on what he/she finds funny though, because, admittedly, the novel is filled with jokes of the bathroom variety, you know, boogers, boobs and boners. But it was funny to me nevertheless.
Great dialogue, self-deprecating humor (albeit occasionally too self-deprecating to be not annoying), vulgarity, wacky secondary characters, fresh (to me) approach to portraying cancer - I enjoyed it all and I hope you will too.