Monday, February 18, 2013

REVIEW: Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl (A #Cybils Award Finalist!) "I am like the Joseph Stalin of narrators"

Andrews, J.  (2012).  Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl.  New York:  Abrams.

295 pages.

Appetizer:  Greg Gaines has a difficult goal of surviving high school without any confrontations, enemies, or a group of friends.  He and his friend Earl make videos that they won't allow anyone to see.

This goal is complicated when Greg's mom informs him that a girl Greg has some history with has been diagnosed with Leukemia and that Greg has been recruited to re-befriend her.  This could cause trouble for Greg and Earl's future as filmmakers.

From the first page, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl amused me.  It opens with Greg contemplating how difficult it is to write a good first sentence for a book.  It's a passage I already plan to share with my future "Teaching of Writing" classes.  I love meta-narratives.  I could eat self-aware narratives for breakfast every morning for FOREVER.  So, the book had me amused from the get-go.

Then, THEN, a few more pages in, I realized that the book was set in the area around the Shadyside and Squirrel Hill districts of Pittsburgh.  I spent two years in that area while working on my MFA.  The familiar places and memories were also a nice introduction to the book.

I really enjoyed Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  It was a "stay up late and read just one more more more...laugh out one more chapter" kind of book for me. 

I also liked the characterizations of Greg's family.  The conflicts within the family were some of the most amusing moments for me.

I also liked the many forms that were included (screenplay, texts, lists of people's comments, etc.)

I did wonder what everyone thought about the way race was depicted.  I did feel like Earl was an original character, but I worried that the way his family was presented could be seen as stereotypical (an angry family...absent step-father...Earl being in a special needs classroom).  I'm still not certain how I feel about these characterizations.

Dinner Conversation:

"I have no idea how to write this stupid book.
Can I just be honest with you for one second?  This is the literal truth.  When I first started writing this book, I tired to start it with the sentence "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."  I genuinely thought that I could start this book that way.  I just figured, it's a classic book-starting sentence.  But then I couldn't even figure out how you were supposed to follow that up." (p. 1)

"I do actually want to say one other thing before we got started with this horrifyingly inane book. You may have already figured out that it's about a girl who had cancer.  So there's a chance you're thinking, "Awesome!  This is going to be a wise and insightful story about love and death and growing up.  It is probably going to make me cry literally the entire time.  I am so fired up right now."  If that is an accurate representation of your thoughts, you should probably try to smush this book into a garbage disposal and then run away.  Because here's the thing:  I learned absolutely nothing from Rachel's leukemia.  In fact, I probably became stupider about life because of the whole thing." (pp. 2-3)

"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?" (p. 5)

"This was the second brain-punchingly insensitive thing I had said in about thirty seconds, and again I considered closing my cell phone and eating it." (p. 45)

"Earl and I are friends.  Sort of.  Actually, Earl and I are more like coworkers.
The first thing to know about Earl Jackson is that if you mention his height, he will windmill-kick you in the head.  Short people are often extremely athletic.  Earl is technically the size of a ten-year-old, but he can kick any object within seven feet of the ground.  Additionally, Earl's default mood is Pissed, and his backup default mood is Mega-Pissed." (pp. 61-62)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

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