Monday, June 24, 2013

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

High School is all about choosing sides and finding allies, which inevitably makes you enemies. If you are a drama kid, the jocks will undoubtedly ignore you at best. If you are a Queen Bee, the goth kids despise you. But what if you could manage to be accepted on the outskirts of every single group? You would never be able to reveal your allegiance to another group, would have to avoid all areas of congregation like the plague, and would have to accept that in order to be friends with everyone, you can't have any real friends. Is it worth it? For Greg, it was a juggling act that was about to come crashing down in Jesse Andrews' Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl

Greg is a pasty, overweight, nondescript kind of guy, but his philosophy for making it through high school is a unique one. If you can somehow manage to have a casual connection with every group on campus without actually committing to a single one, you can be relatively safe from the horrors of high school. For a kid like Greg who is awkward, can't talk to girls (actually, turns into a babbling idiot every time a cute girl walks into the room), and is obsessed with strange, obscure movies, this is really the best decision. He has always had Earl, the filthy mouthed oddball who shares Greg's love of strange movies and is his coproducer in their own miserable attempts at filmmaking, but you wouldn't exactly call Earl a "friend". He is more like a bad habit. 

When Greg actually made attempts to get girls to notice him, they turned into poo-covered, flaming disasters. The only girl he didn't completely alienate was Rachel. Granted, he never accomplished much of anything, but at least she didn't think he was a drooling moron. When Greg's mother tells him Rachel has cancer, she forces him to spend time with her. In reality, it isn't so bad. Rachel is pretty cool, and she isn't appalled by Greg's bizarre antics, but this isn't like what you would expect from a boy who befriended a dying girl. It isn't some life-affirming, wisdom laden one-liner filled cream puff of grief and self-reflection. Greg insists Rachel's presence in his life has not changed him. But is it possible to live through something like the death of a girl who was the first person you let over your protective wall and not be affected? Greg insists it is!

OK, this was a strange book. It was strange in the same way Greg was strange- awkward, sometimes pretty funny, and surprisingly endearing. I actually loved it when I first started it, went through a period of being annoyed by Greg's silliness, and finished absolutely loving it. It was a strange experience, to tell you the truth. Even now, I am not sure how to describe the book that is going to truly do it any justice. Greg is just this big ball of awkwardness. He is so invested in blending in and not identifying himself to anyone, that is becomes terrifying to him to even consider openly befriending Rachel in school, but because he has a soft, gooey center, he does it anyway. And he insists over and over again that he is not affected by Rachel's leukemia, but you can see how it chips away at his resolve and his hard candy coating he uses to protect himself. Not in a "come to Jesus" kind of revelation, nothing that dramatic or expected, but just in small, tiny little ways where he allows Rachel to affect him. It was a really interesting approach. In fact, it made me think that this book was the antithesis to The Fault in Our Stars. Everything Greg made fun of, the deep, meaningful one liners, the emotional roller coaster, the grief, was hidden so well, you would almost miss it if you weren't looking carefully enough. And in the end, although Greg was totally ridiculous at times, it was a really great book.

And the supporting characters were just as hilarious. Earl in all his foul-mouthed glory was so absurd you had to love him. Greg's parents were just as entertaining. I think I can see the exact kind of kid I would give this book to- the wise-guy kind of tough guy who hides behind his wise cracks and silly jokes, the class clown. The only concern is that there is a lot of profanity and sex talk in this book (nothing graphic, just gross teenage boys talking about boobs and whatnot). I personally wouldn't let that keep me from giving this to a younger student if I thought they would enjoy the book, because it is mostly in the form of silly jokes and ribbing, but some might not be comfortable with that, so I thought it was worth mentioning. I am still shaking my head about this book, but I will definitely read Andrews' next book to see how much of this story was his creation of the characters and how much was really Andrews!

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