Tryptich of the three title characters of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

About the Book

Title: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Published: 2012

Cover Story: Misleading
Drinking Buddy: I Wish
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (language, sexuality)
Talky Talk: Breaking The Fourth Wall
Bonus Factors: Indy Film, No Sugar-Coating
Bromance Status: Let’s Get Together Sometime. Seriously. Um…E-mail Me Or Something, I Guess.

Cover Story: Misleading

Based on this cover, I was picturing something slightly more lighthearted. More of a Charlie Brown deals with his friend’s cancer, rather than the intense book I ended up reading. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The Deal:

Greg is a senior at an inner-city Pittsburgh high school. All he wants out of his last year of high school is to not be noticed. By anyone. For any reason.

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?

His only friend is Earl, the tough, cynical homeboy with absent parents and a bunch of psychotic brothers. They bond over their love for great cinema and their attempts to make independent films.

Greg’s activist mother informs him that Rachel, his first uncomfortable junior high date, has come down with leukemia. She ‘suggests’ that Greg befriend her in this moment of crisis. And the last thing Greg wants to do is play good Samaritan to a girl with whom he’s had an awkward romantic past.

Drinking Buddy: I Wish

Two pints of beer cheersing

Greg’s only wish in life is NOT to make friends, and quite frankly Earl is too badass to want to filch peppermint schnapps while my folks are out. I want to hang out with these guys, but they’re too damn intimidating.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (language, sexuality)

This is not an action book, but it’s also not a romance. Greg, the narrator, frequently warns us not to expect a cutesy, romance-that-transcends-illness love story. But Greg and Earl must face something that in many ways is more intimidating than anything Gary Paulsen has written. They must watch a friend die, knowing there’s not a damn thing in the world they can do about it.

Talky Talk: Breaking The Fourth Wall

Greg talks directly to the reader throughout the whole book. This is not a gimmick, he has his reasons which are explained at the end. Also, in true director form, he writes some scenes in the form of a script. That’s a dicey decision for an author, but it works.

Bonus Factor: Indy Film

Old timey female extras relaxing on a movie set surrounded by lighting rigs

There’s not a high school student alive who hasn’t considered breaking out the family camcorder and making the movie that Hollywood is afraid to. I know my friends and I had great fun producing Revenge of the Astro-nazis, where Adolf Hitler’s brain is implanted into a heavily-armed pumpkin (it was a project for biology class). Earl and Greg, however, take this much more seriously. They watch Greg’s father’s film collection, and imitate the great, psychotic German and Japanese directors.

Bonus Factor: No Sugar-Coating

Mary Poppins record

About six months ago, I attempted to write my own ‘kids with cancer’ book. I was struck by the impossibility of balancing an engaging story with the bleakness of the subject matter. Fortunately, some other guy wrote a YA cancer book, and I was able to abandon the project.

But Me and Earl attacks the subject in a way that not even whatshisname could. Leukemia is ugly. It’s ugly. Rachel is dying. No amount of wisecracking, brooding, hoping, and friendship is going to change that. They’re going to lose her. Greg, Earl and Rachel get a harsh lesson in life, and don’t even end up making a decent film.

This book is funny, it’s entertaining, but mostly, it’s sad. Kind of like real life, as Greg might say.

Bromance Status: Let’s Get Together Sometime. Seriously. Um, E-mail Me Or Something, I Guess.

Some memories are kind of painful. We’ve been through a lot together, but like Greg and Earl, maybe we don’t want to relive it. Thanks for everything. See you on the flip side, amigo.

FTC Full Disclosure: Library book. I received no money or beer for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.