The novel was a short one; I finished reading the book in under six hours. It captured enough of my interest that I read it in large chunks over a few days. I had trouble deciding if I actually liked the book, or if my enjoyment was linked to the emotional and well-acted movie. Even though the novel preceded the movie, this was one of the situations where I think watching the movie first helped me enjoy the book.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is about a socially awkward high school senior, Greg, who tries his hardest to go unnoticed at Benson High School. He is on the fringe of every social group in the school and maintains a precarious balance of social interaction to avoid making friends or enemies. His ultimate goal is to pass time uneventfully, having no plans for the future or meaningful relationships. His closest connection is Earl, who Greg refers to as his co-worker. Earl acts tough, as a product of his dysfunctional family, but manages to show more empathy than Greg for most of the novel.
Greg’s life changes when his mother learns of Rachel’s cancer, and forces Greg to spend time with her. Rachel and Greg had a short friendship from Jewish school that disintegrated years ago. The awkwardness that ensues is overcome from Greg’s ability to make Rachel laugh. They develop a special relationship because, for reasons unknown to him, Greg is able to open up to Rachel. Eventually, their conversations move towards Greg’s homemade movies with Earl, films that the two friends/co-workers never share with anyone. Rachel enters this world and finds some comfort from the humorous parody films.
The rest of the novel outlines Greg’s struggles to connect with Rachel publicly, jeopardizing his fragile position in his school’s hierarchy. It goes on to focus much more on Greg’s life and plans after high school, considering university and film school. Even though the story does include a girl with cancer, I felt that the book was more about how Greg dealt with that situation and his own life.
As the book progresses, Greg is semi-forced to make a film for Rachel to honor her life, a film that changes his perspective on his future. He struggles to find the content to create something meaningful and hates the final product. In the book, the film was shown to the entire school, but in the movie version, it is kept as a private film shown to only Rachel. The book ends with Rachel’s death and Greg’s re-evaluation of attending university, using the book and film as the reasons for his abysmal grades.
I feel that Jesse Andrews tries too hard to make his writing style stand out from the rest of the books set in the perspective of a teenager. The book consciously acknowledges the multiple stylistic changes as boredom with the written form. He uses different forms of writing such as lists and scripts to move through the story, which is a deviation from the normal writing style, but comes off as annoying. In regards to content, the writing is informal and tends to make light of the serious topic of death that is a central theme. Greg’s character loves cheap and degrading humor, which is reflected in his life and writings. I understand that Greg’s personality uses humor on a daily basis, perhaps as a coping mechanism, but my opinion is that the contrasts between humor and death are too vast to be constantly meshed together.
The movie was much more compelling than the book. The main reason the book failed to meet my expectations was that the writing failed to convey the emotion that each character felt during the couple of months that these three teenagers developed their friendships. I understand that the book was written from the perspective of a teenager who struggled with communicating his feelings, but it reflects badly on the reader’s experience. If I had picked up the book prior to the movie, I don’t think I would have enjoyed either.
For a reader that enjoys stretching boundaries and is not easily offended. Must be willing to understand a teenage mind.