Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

So, how does a boy turn into a man?  How does a guy handle his awkward, vulnerable self when he's expected to be Mr. Coolness from the ring of the first bell to the end of the school day?  And what on earth is this far from smooth dude going to do when his mother railroads him into being friends with Rachel who has just discovered she has leukemia?  

Welcome to Benson High School in beautiful inner city Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and welcome to the life of Greg Gaines, high school survivor.  Greg has figured out how to survive in high school amongst all the groups.  He knows just how to look like he's part of a group without actually being part of the group.  He's figured out how much to say and to whom and for how long before he moves on. This way he attracts little negative attention from any group.  

This guy is here to tell the truth about all of his faults, failures, strategies and lack of knowledge about girls.  He's friends with a guy named Earl who lives a life without boundaries with a whole herd of wild brothers.  A typical moment in Greg's life would be as he sits in Rachel's room, admiring her movie posters of Hugh Jackman, a text message comes in from Earl.  "Yo pa gaines drove me to whole foods so if you need some funky vlasic pickle relish for that pussy just hollerrr"  Yepper, that's about the way it goes between these two.  

Greg and Earl love to make films.  Their friendship was pretty much born and sealed when they watched a movie together, Aguirre the Wrath of God, and laughed hilariously at all the same parts.  When it was over they decided they wanted to remake every scene themselves using super soakers and what not.  This opened the door to a huge career in filmmaking together.  

Earl turns out to be a pretty good guy as Rachel's leukemia progresses.  Greg is struggling with the entire coming of age, figuring out girls, deciding how to handle Rachel and her imminent demise.  It's an absolutely brilliant behind the scenes look at how a guy tries to do his best, doesn't have a clue who he is or how he feels or is supposed to feel about most of the important things going on in his personal world.  Earl and Greg are hilarious together and the dialogue will have you rolling.  There's an everpresent tone of sarcasm that is blistering.  One of Earl's brothers, Brandon, has a tattoo that says TRU NIGGA and he's described as having impregnated a girl even though his voice hasn't deepened to its full potential.  He's also short-listed for young people most likely not to succeed.  You get it... the characters are vividly over the top and highly entertaining.

Parts of the story read like a movie script.  You really come to like Greg and Earl and you forgive them their boy grossness and empty profanity.  They wear it and speak it as though it's all a normal part of young male armor and very necessary to survival.  For the reader it's wonderful comedy touched by the authenticity of the vulnerability of all of the characters in the story.

I loved it.  Plenty of profane language and crassness so best placed into the hands of 14 and up.  But 5 out of 5 stars for me!  (Barb)  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. 

Recommended by Pamela Thompson, Library Media Specialist, Texas, USA

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Great book

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