Monday, June 18, 2012

High School Pick: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
By Jesse Andrews
Amulet (Abrams)
295 pages

Scathing, scintillating, taut and teetering, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a triumph! Not since Holden Caulfield has a character come forward with such strength and with a voice of his own generation.

Greg Gaines is a social misfit and, believe it or not, he tries to remain on the perimeter of things. He doesn’t want to be associated with a particular group. The key to surviving high school according to Greg is to appear to fit in everywhere but nowhere. Be visible but invisible. Don’t be associated with the goths, the band kids, the nerd kids, the popular kids, but be friendly to all groups. Don’t get on the wrong side of anyone. That way, no one will be targeting you. Earl is about the only friend Greg has and they don’t associate at school. Earl is a loner like Greg, but they have movies in common. In fact, particularly old and strange movies. They watch Aguirre, the Wrath of God so many times, they know the script. They decide to make their own movies and a friendship is born.

In the meantime, Greg’s mother tells him that one of his classmates, Rachel Kushner has leukemia. She is dying and Greg’s mother wants Greg to help comfort her. She knows that he once had a “thing” for Rachel; Greg doesn’t remember it that way at all, and the last thing he wants is to hang out with a dying girl who probably doesn’t even remember him. But, he does go to the hospital and try to keep Rachel laughing and her spirits up. He tells Earl about Rachel and Earl soon visits her, too. When Rachel finds out about the boys’ movie making, she begs them to let her watch their movies. Greg is against it on so many levels, but Earl gives in. As she gets worse, Greg and Earl come up with the idea of Rachel the Movie. Rachel loves their movies, and the boys want to cheer her up. She loves the movie they made for her and sees true talent in their film, even if the boys don’t see their path yet. Her last wish is for Greg to attend film school because she knows it’s what he really loves. It’s a major Greg hadn’t even thought of, and he is intrigued.

Earl and Greg have several serious fights and Earl goes to work at Wendy’s. Greg realizes he has to figure out a way to college, so he sits down to write this book—the book the reader is reading—it’s his entry essay into college. He’s screwed up his grades so much, and people know it’s because of the grief he feels over losing Rachel, that the admissions committee gives him a chance to enter Pitt (Pittsburgh) if he will write an essay.

Believable characters with tragic flaws, teen angst and satire at its best, comedic charm and cunning wit put this ya novel at the top of its game. I say look out for Jesse Andrews; he’s the teen answer to writers like David Sedaris. He sees humor in dark situations like poverty, gang activities, guns, death, dying, and cancer. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a must-read for every teen who likes witty characters with an edge and realistic fiction with spot-on teen dialog. Earl, despite his foibles, is loveable and a true character. He has strength of character and grit, and despite his environment and troubled upbringing and lack of parenting, he knows right from wrong and does the right thing. He is a righteous man and calls on Greg to “step up to the plate” when it comes to Rachel.

I was hooked from the opening paragraph, “So in order to understand everything that happened, you have to start from the premise that high school sucks. Do you accept that premise? Of course you do. It is a universally acknowledged truth that high school sucks. In fact, high school is where we are first introduced to the basic existential question of life: How is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad?” I wanted to know about this narrator—what makes him tick? Why is he so ticked off? And he had Holden Caulfield-esque brutal honesty. He will have universal appeal to teen readers.

His grip on human behavior is genius. About Earl’s younger gangster brother Brandon, Greg says, “If the city of Pittsburgh gave out a Least Promising Human award, he would be on the short list.”

Later, Greg and Earl accidentally ingest marijuana, I know what you’re thinking, how does anyone accidentally ingest marijuana, right? Read the book, you’ll see; it’s funny. Anyway, Greg says,

“I probably don’t need to tell you that nothing is funnier at Benson, or any other high school, than when a human being falls down. I don’t mean witty, or legitimately funny; I’m just saying , people in high school think falling down is the funniest thing that a person could possibly do…People completely lose control when they see this happen. Sometimes they themselves fall down, and then the entire world collapses on itself…” When Greg has trouble standing up and falls down a second time, he writes, “People were close to throwing up from laughing so hard. It was truly a gift from the Comedy Gods: a chubby guy falling down, freaking out, lurching in the direction of the door, and falling down again.”

Laugh out loud funny, teens will chortle at Greg’s descriptions and wit. He is a character that many will identify with and others will want to embrace as a bff.

Highly, highly recommended grades 9-up. This is some of the funniest, most descriptive curse words I’ve ever read. A+ for new vocabulary words added to the English language and new ways of using existing profanity. Earl is a genius at cursing and it’s funny. Mature situations and lots and lots of profanity.

FTC required disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.


  1. Sounds like a fairly similar plot to John Green The Fault in Our Stars

  2. Kids who liked J Green's Fault will like this one. Can't wait to read it...

  3. Intriguing!
    Dade City, FL

  4. Looks really good!

    London Judge

  5. Always looking for new HS titles.
    Arthur, Iowa

  6. I know of several students who would love this book.
    Mary Ann
    Olean, New York

  7. Gotta love a chance for a free book :)This one sounds like a good one.
    Crystal River, FL

  8. Know a few students who would grab this in a flash.
    Stewartville, MN

  9. Really great post, Thank you for sharing This knowledge. Excellently written article, if only all bloggers offered the same level of content as you, the internet would be a much better place. Please keep it up!internet

    1. Thanks, David, I LOVED this book; glad you posted the kind words. Hugs from west Texas, Pamela

  10. I would like to be entered into this contest. I am always looking for new and funny books. I personally believe that the new "trend" in YA will be towards the humorous storylines as everything else seems to be so depressing and kids seek an escape.

    Brenda Lemon
    District Librarian
    Chapman KS. 67431

  11. Who couldn't use a good laugh!
    Maggie Knapp
    Fort WOrth, TX

  12. Can't wait to read it!

  13. Can't wait to get a good laugh!

  14. This book sounds like a real hoot! Looking forward to reading it.

    Sue Buchanan
    Franklin, NC

  15. Wow... this book sounds amazing.
    I am glad it brings humor to such a serious topic.

    Ashburn, VA