Not that this a bad book – I think it deserves all the rave reviews. Its definitely one of the better cancer books I’ve read about a child dying (though why I keep picking these up I don’t know), as it avoids the horrible, saccharine, cliches you normally come across in these types of books *coughJohnGreencough*. It also has some very funny moments.
The truth is, I found being in Greg’s head a weird mixture of amusing, annoying, dull and tedious… which I think was kind of the point.
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.
Rather than have his characters experience life-altering epiphanies or fall in love or become wiser than their years, Andrew’s gives us Greg. Your average seventeen-year-old who is socially awkward, a bit of an idiot, lazy and very often selfish. In other words, he reacts to his sort-of-friend/classmate dying in a way that is refreshingly honest.
He doesn’t want to spend time with Rachel – but his mum makes him. He has no idea what to say to a girl who’s dying and so ends up saying the wrong thing entirely which leads to uncomfortable silences. He resents the impact this girl’s dying has on his hereto easy, if mundane, life. He’s sad, but mostly because for the first time, he’s faced with the shocking and terrifying realization of his own mortality. He grieves… and finds it remarkably easy to fall back into everyday life. These are not, well… heroic reactions. But I think they are human ones, even if we might not want to admit it.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a cancer book that’s not really a cancer book. I liked that there was no idealism, that Rachel isn’t a saint full of profound wisdom, that no one falls in love and that Greg isn’t a better person at the end of it. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl doesn’t have some life affirming message and doesn’t manipulate you into feeling all the things. It’s the most honest and realistic cancer book I’ve come across, as well as being the first one that didn’t make me feel utterly depressed for days after reading it. While not a personal favourite, (the jokes were occasionally overdone, I didn’t like Earl much and there’s only so long I can take being stuck inside a seventeen-year-old boy’s head), I would definitely recommend picking it up, particularly if you’re a fan of the old Adrian Mole diaries.