A New Side of YA Cancer Lit: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

I think that YA cancer lit can sometimes come off as kind of cliche. And it’s been getting a lot of attention lately, specifically with the publishing of John Green’s new novel The Fault in Our Stars (WHICH IS NOT IN ANY WAY CLICHE IT IS FANTASTIC). But you know what I mean: Girl finds out she has cancer. Boy emerges out of the shadows. Tells her he’s always loved her. She dies. OR she gets better and thank GOD she got cancer because then he would have NEVER professed his love. It’s just a bit routine.

ENTER: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews.

I expected the usual when reading this book (see above), but my expectations were woefully incorrect.And though this book did not live up to my expectations, it offered me new ones.  I always have a certain idea in my head when I start reading a book about what is going to happen and how that will make me feel. Sometimes my ideas are right, but a lot of the times they aren’t. This was one of those times.

Greg Gaines is a filmmaking, self-loathing senior in high school. He and his friend(?), Earl, make films together, which they believe to be truly awful.

Greg’s high school game plan is to be friendly, but not too friendly, to everyone and to not step on anyone’s toes. It has worked pretty well for him, too, until his mom forces him to befriend Rachel, his old Jewish school mate who has just been diagnosed with leukemia.

What I like about this book, and about Greg, is that his interactions with Rachel and with her cancer are so predictably realistic, which is something that does not normally occur in books. At least the books that I am reading. In many stories, the Greg character is calm and dynamic and positive when it comes to dealing with the presence of cancer. Greg, on the other hand, is just freaked out. The cancer cells manifesting in Rachel’s blood make him want to vomit. Sometimes he seems like he is a bit hopeless, never believing for a second that she could actually survive the life-sucking cancer cells.

Earl, his filmmaking friend, also really surprised me. He is almost always consumed with gripping anger, and yet he might be the character with the most character. He is honest and practical and acts as the unexpected voice of reason. Every book needs a character like this. I was pleasantly surprised to find him in Earl.

Though this book is about Earl and it’s about Rachel, it is mostly about Greg, and learning how he deals with and comes to terms with his present situations (high school, Earl, filmmaking and cancer-filled Rachel) and his aspirations for the future. The more Greg tries to make you hate him, the more you love him, and I think that is because everyone can see a little bit of themselves in him (at least I could). I  have never had a close relationship with someone with cancer, so I am not sure how I would act. But if I did, I think I would probably react in the same ways as Greg. I would be freaked out. And I would probably want to throw up every time I though about cancer cells too.

Speckled with German films, exotic and disgusting foods and a cat named Cat, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a hilarious novel that will surprise you with its refreshing honesty and wit. GO READ IT, por favor.

Rating: 8 out of 10