Friday, July 1, 2016

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews | Review


Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Publish Date: March 1 2012
Page Amount: 295 pages
Price: $17.95 Hardback
ISBN: 1419701762 (ISBN13: 9781419701764)
Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.

Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.

Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.

And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.

My first exposure to this book wasn't actually from picking up the book and reading the summary. My first exposure to this book actually came from an in-school assembly, where a bunch of clubs and competition teams came together to share some of their competition pieces in the hopes of inspiring underclassmen to join the team in the coming year. Now, as a senior, I knew that joining a competition team like Forensics wouldn't happen, but I still really enjoyed watching all of the performances. (A fun fact about me: I wish I could have joined my school's Forensics team).

It turns out that one of the performances involved two very close friends of mine (and two friends who are also extremely talented in acting and Forensics as a whole). As they were taking their places on our stage, they introduced the rules of their piece. It was a duo, with no props, and they were not allowed to look at each other the entire time. On top of that, they chose to re-enact a famous fictional story.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. 

I have heard of this book before this assembly, but I wasn't really curious enough about it to pick it up. Plus, I had heard through some friends that they didn't enjoy the book, so I was a bit skeptical about starting it.

But, this performance that my friends put on was absolutely phenomenal. I mean, I wish I would have recorded it so that I can watch it over and over again. I promise, I'm not just saying this because they are my friends. I'm saying this because they did an amazing job with a very sensitive story and they are so talented at what they do. They made the teachers gasp, laugh and I think even shed a tear at some points. So, Finnley and Steffi, if you are reading this at some point, you did an amazing job.

I have to admit, that performance set my expectations pretty high for the book. I also have to admit that I knew the ending of the book before going into it because of this performance, so my reading experience wasn't necessarily as authentic as others. However, upon reading the book, I found out that  the information regarding the "ending" is actually disclosed in the beginning, so maybe my reading experience was authentic after all.

I actually really liked the story as a whole. I knew that the story would be somewhat similar to The Fault in Our Stars, being that one of the main characters is diagnosed with cancer in the beginning of the book. I was honestly worried that the two story-lines would be too similar for me. I'm not saying that the stories would be the same, I'm just saying that I thought the stories would be more similar than different.

I'm happy to report otherwise. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was so incredibly unique, funny and witty. I found myself laughing at some parts in the book, crying at others and just breezing through this book. I started this book and finished it within less than 2 hours. It was an incredibly short and fast read, which I think is perfect for the summer season!

I loved how this book took something like cancer and wrote about it in a way that I had never seen before. Normally, cancer is always discussed at the hospital and only the negative effects of chemotherapy are shown. But, with this book, although we didn't get to see Rachel before her diagnosis, we did get to see her before chemo. We get to see her reaction to her own diagnosis, her thoughts about her friends. Although limited, you get to see her feelings and her doubts about her own survival.

I think it's interesting that we don't really get to hear much of this from Rachel, though. We hear a lot of it from Greg, who is, in the beginning of the book, repulsed and annoyed at the fact that he has to spend time with a former childhood friend (Rachel). Most of what we learn about Rachel is actually through Greg's reflection on his conversations with her, and his own interpretations of what she tells him and how she reacted in his eyes. I thought that this was a really unique spin on how to tell a story.

Obviously, my favorite character was Rachel. I don't know if it was something that I read in the book or just something that I saw on my friend's expression when she was performing this piece, but there was an instant bond. She was the blend of a female character that I like, and she resembled me in a lot of ways too. I loved getting to know her throughout the book, and I think her way of handling her diagnosis speaks volumes. I feel a lot for her, but I also understand her.

There were, however, two things that I didn't like about this book. I was having issues with a lot of the terminology in the book, and I also didn't really understand the ending.

For the terminology, I just think that a lot of the vocabulary was misused and/or used in a negative light when it shouldn't have been used at all. I'll put some examples below.

"In the chimpanzee-ruled jungle of Benson, they are the cripples, hobbling along on the forest floor..."

"The point is that by seventh period, he's been exposed to four hours of grinding stupidity, and he wants to slit his wrists."

There's also a little bit of bi-erasure/bi-phobia in it too, which didn't sit well with me either.

"...but I been thinking about it and how the **** can somebody call theyself a bisexual."

In what world is it okay to include language like this in a book? It's one thing if you are a disabled person and choose to reclaim the word "cripple", but seeing as none of the characters are disabled in this book and it's used in a derogatory way, it's not okay. Also, comparing a boring day at school to someone wanting to intentionally injure themselves is just wrong. I haven't even mentioned the problem with bi-phobia and bi-erasure. This is not okay in the slightest. I hated the terminology used in the book. I almost contemplated putting this book on my Did Not Finish shelf, but I really wanted to know the story and I put aside my hatred for the terminology and the hurt I felt to finish the story and plot itself.

I also thought that the book was heavy on vulgar and sexual content, which I wasn't really expecting coming from a book like this one. There wasn't really any particular parts where it occurred, but it was kind of spread all throughout the book. I wish that it didn't contain that much, even if it was just the attitude/experiences of the characters. I don't feel like it added anything to the plot itself.

(As an afterthought: Maybe some of my thoughts on this has to come from envisioning my friend Finnley as Greg, as some of the things that he says and his friend Earl don't strike my mind as things that my friend would say. However, in my personal opinion, this book was still pretty heavy on the sexual content and drug mentions, and I wish I didn't have to read about that to get to the rest of the story. It's not something I like reading about.)

I also didn't like where the book ended off. In the epilogue, I just felt like a ton of information was being thrown at me, and I would have much rather liked to see these events unfold rather than being told a list of things that happened. I understand why it ended where it did, but I also wish that I could have been a part of what occurred in between the last chapter and the epilogue. I feel like that would have been a much more meaningful closure to a great story.

Overall, I really did enjoy the story. I didn't think I would be able to connect to the characters as much as I did, but that performance by my Forensics team helped to boost my connection and interest in the books. I wish that the issues with the terminology and questionable content hadn't been an issue, because they did kind of take away from my experience reading the book, but they didn't alter the underlying story.

If you want to read something that is unique, painfully funny, and sad at the same time, you might want to pick this one up.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

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