Rating: 4 Stars
Synopsis via Goodreads:
Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.
Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.
Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.
And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.
I don’t really understand why I like this book.
No, really. I don’t have a freakin’ clue. Like, there are about a hundred reasons I could list about why this wouldn’t usually work for me, but it did work. So. Huh.
Look, I’m not going to BS you here. Greg is not a particularly likable character. Neither is Earl. Neither is the dying girl. They are too much like every other teenager in life where they are unendingly annoying and selfish and don’t really know what the heck they’re doing with their life. There is nothing special about any of them. There will not be any great epiphanies or special, earth changing sentences that somehow sum up the joy and crap that is life. This is an ugly mess of a book that is the literal interpretation of a train crash (because that’s basically what teenage years are), and that is probably why I liked it so much.
“I’m not really putting this very well. My point is this: This book contains precisely zero Important Life Lessons, or Little-Known Facts About Love, or sappy tear-jerking Moments When We Knew We Had Left Our Childhood Behind for Good, or whatever. And, unlike most books in which a girl gets cancer, there are definitely no sugary paradoxical single-sentence-paragraphs that you’re supposed to think are deep because they’re in italics. Do you know what I’m talking about? I’m talking about sentences like this:
The cancer had taken her eyeballs, yet she saw the world with more clarity than ever before.
Barf. Forget it. For me personally, things are in no way more meaningful because I got to know Rachel before she died. If anything, things are less meaningful. All right?”
There are no blossoming friendships. Even Greg’s friend Earl is introduced as a “co-worker.” They have one thing in common – making films – and that’s as far as their interaction goes. Greg’s just trying to survive high school without anyone planning his imminent demise. He’s not trying to fit in or be popular or be loved. He is at his happiest in being a wallflower and invisible.
Writing a book right now that has absolutely anything to do with cancer is almost always begging to be compared to John Green’s book. It will be a good long while until a YA book about cancer can come out without most of the population unintentionally comparing the characters to Hazel Grace and Gus. That’s just how it is.
I found myself doing that. The first few chapters really hooked me here. By this I mean the first two or so chapters basically in some form or another manage to insult every stereotype and preconceived prejudices we have based on race, gender, religion, etc, etc, . . . Greg takes the high school cliques and brutally and honestly tears them all apart at the seams and basically makes the reader crack up laughing because every insulting thing he says is completely true, and we all know it. Somehow this book manages to be brutally insulting to any reader, and yet we won’t really be angry or insulted because we know it’s all true. All of it.
There is a good chance you will be insulted – or at least mildly uncomfortable – somewhere in the first few chapters. That is okay.
“And if a jock, God forbid, witnesses you hobnobbing with theater kids, he will immediately assume you are gay, and there is no force on earth greater than the fear jocks have homosexuals. None. It’s like the Jewish fear of Nazis, except the complete opposite with regard to who is beating the crap out of whom. So I guess it’s more like the Nazi fear of Jews.”
If you’ve read TFIOS – I’m going to just go and assume you have, since most of the human population has – and you’re like me, you had tears in your eyes after the first chapter of TFIOS because of how hard you’re laughing. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl does that too.
There are about a dozen other comparisons I could make, but honestly, those don’t matter. Because even though you can compare this to TFIOS until the sun goes down, if someone told me this was similar to TFIOS, I would just end up giving them a WTF? look. Because besides a few similarities that don’t even matter, this book is nothing like TFIOS.
While TFIOS managed to be funny and ironic, but still managing to be heartbreaking in places, this book is funny from start to finish, and the funny thing is I never really liked Greg. Or Earl. Or even the dying girl.
That’s funny, isn’t it? I liked this book, but I didn’t really like any of the characters. They’re forgettable, because they’re too much like normal high school kids. They have no real redeeming characteristics because they’re too much made up of teenage hormones.
“If after reading this book you come to my home and brutally murder me, I do not blame you.”
There are no great epiphanies. There is no sudden romance or love that creeps up on any of the characters. Because, hey, this girl here is dying from cancer and that’s all there really is to it. She’s dying, and there are a few handful of moments in the book where Greg will just suddenly drop a line that isn’t even clever or intelligent, but just sums up the situation so perfectly, but that’s all there really is. She lived, she’s dying, and neither Greg or Earl knew her all that well. Life moves on.
“There was just something about her dying that I had understood but not really understood, if you know what I mean. I mean, you can know someone is dying on an intellectual level, but emotionally it hasn’t really hit you, and then when it does, that’s when you feel like shit.”
In fact, Greg is not friends with the dying girl – her name is Rachel, BTW – because he chooses to be or because he’s just always been friends with her. No. His mother literally forces and guilt-trips him into being friends with Rachel because she is has suddenly become a Dying Girl and you treat dying people differently. He’s not being nice for the sake of being nice or because he cares for her at all. If it was up to him, Greg wouldn’t speak another word to her, dying or not.
He’s selfish. But he’s honest about it. Greg puts everything onto page about how he’s a horrible person, and how even though this girl is bald and dying and has cancer, he’s still thinking selfish things, and it’s not just him trying to be modest, because he really is an awful person. But he’s honest, and his thoughts are things no one wants to talk about, but we all have them, and we think about how even though this girl is dying right before his eyes, he’s still thinking about himself and how awkward it is to try to be friends with a girl who is dying.
“I entered Excessive Modesty Mode. Nothing is stupider and more ineffective than Excessive Modesty Mode. It is a mode in which you show that you’re modest by arguing with someone who is trying to compliment you. Essentially, you are going out of your way to try to convince someone that you’re a jerk.”