Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cybils Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Book: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Author: Jesse Andrews
Published: 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher specifically for the Cybils

Chubby, pasty, and socially awkward, Greg Gaines has spent most of his high school career trying not to make waves, and finding a fair amount of success. He prides himself on being accepted by every group without ever really being part of one. He stays off the radar and out of firing range in the war that is high school. Nobody knows about his secret hobby of filmmaking except for his (for lack of a better word) best friend and co-director, the undersized and perpetually furious Earl.

Then Greg's mother tells him that Rachel Kushner has leukemia, and she wants him to spend some time with her.

Who is Rachel Kushner? Nobody, really. A girl he once sort-of-maybe-but-not-really had a thing with, in eighth grade. Their parting was drawn out, awkward, and gratefully forgotten until now. Greg bows to the unstoppable force that is his mom's nagging and revives their friendship. He's just trying to make her laugh, but he finds himself opening up to her. And whether he likes it or not, Greg Gaines is about to make tsunami-size waves.

The book really isn't about Rachel, in spite of her presence in the title. As a character, she's actually rather thin (delete tasteless Greg-style joke about thinness and chemo patients). She doesn't do much. There's not even any hint of romance. But her illness forces Greg to be a friend for the first time in his life. He has to do things that are uncomfortable to him. He has to expose his own flaws, not only to her but to others. Near the end of the book, he gets suckered into making a film about Rachel. In the past, he and Earl have made one attempt at each film and went on to the next one. They were stupid, derivative, tasteless, and pretty much senseless. This time he makes . . .

A stupid, derivative, tasteless, and pretty much senseless film. Or rather, five of them. He keeps going. He keeps trying. And while the result is astonishingly bad (I cringed just reading the bits that we get), he still worked at it, for perhaps the first time in his life.

Like most guys, Earl and Greg show their feelings by talking around them, joking about them, and downright pretending they don't exist. You have to watch carefully to see the change in Greg from someone trying to stay invisible and unhurt to someone who is reluctantly, tremulously, openly vulnerable.

I feel like this book got overlooked a lot because of its overt similarity to the much more high-profile The Fault in Our Stars. (And trust me, there will be a review of that coming. Sometime. Soon. Ish.) But they're really not the same at all. Sure, they both talk about death in teens, and how it affects other teens, but in tone and approach they couldn't be more different. This is the death/cancer book for kids who will moan and roll their eyes all the way through The Fault in Our Stars. Myself, I loved them both.

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