Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a wonderfully well-done story narrated by Greg Gaines, a senior in high school, whose mother forces him to start spending time with Rachel Kushner, who has just been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. Greg knew Rachel from Hebrew school at a younger age, and had hurt her feelings when he had rejected her invitations to spend time together, saying his "foot was stuck in a toaster", or "I'm digesting an entire wombat right now". Now, Greg is forced to reconnect with Rachel and, without even realizing it, makes it his personal mission to cheer her up-- discussing the most ridiculous concepts and ideas with Rachel ranging from the thought that his parents won't buy him throw pillows for his room since they fear he will masturbate with them, to deciding a polar bear is a regretful animal since it eats all of its friends. The reader is hooked by Greg's outlandish thoughts and ideas and his underlying caring heart that he doesn't even realize he has.
Not only does the reader want to hear everything Greg has to say, but the other characters are developed just as well. His dad eats cuddlefish and kale chips, his sister is going through puberty and storms around the house, his mom periodically checks on him to make sure he's okay, which drives Greg insane, and his cat is named Cat Stevens and brings a few laughs himself. Earl, Greg's friend who comes from a rougher neighborhood than Greg and swears like a sailor, immediately hooks the reader since behind his dirty mouth is a huge heart that sees the all of the world's imperfections and beauties.
The characters in this story make it very genuine and believable. Also, Greg tells you from the start that he and Rachel do not fall in love, and that she dies. The reader is struck by how honest this is-- they do not elope into the sunset on a white horse; this book is too real for that. Greg also struggles with the fact that he doesn't feel like a great person throughout the story. He wonders if he really is a good friend because at times he doesn't want to see Rachel and doesn't really think he's making a difference in her life. He claims that he just wants to make her laugh because it's something he's become good at doing. His viewpoint of himself and his questions about his worth strike me as questions so many high schoolers wonder about themselves and those around them. This book leaves its reader thinking, "Okay, so I'm not the only one who does that sometimes! Good!".
About halfway through reading of this book, I decided to pick up the audiobook and film versions to see how they compared. The audiobook did a magical job of making the characters even more real and hilarious. I would definitely recommend it. The movie was also good, but very different from the book. I would say about half of the plot is altered, including some of the funnier, and at times vulgar, sections. Watching the movie, I was happy I had the background on each character that I did from the text, because some of these little back-stories and dialogues that really showed the characters' personalities were lacking from the film. However, the same ideas of friendship, differences, growth, and self-discovery were nicely presented in the movie. It is definitely worth a watch, as well, just with a less critical eye in regard to comparing it to the book.
I would recommend this book to high schoolers. It is a little to vulgar at times (many references to drug use, alcohol. sex, and swearing) for middle schoolers (perhaps 8th grade would be okay). The ideas and themes about the cliques in high school, the various socio-economic situations of different students in a high-school, and the self-discovery through friendship, classes, and obstacles, would be perfect for this age group. At first I worried that the book may be too profane to hand to a high schooler, too, but I think students would appreciate its message and would connect with the story well since it is real and not at all sugar-coated. After much back and forth, I decided I would certainly hand this book to a group of high schoolers for a book study. Also as a teacher, I would let the students analyze the film after reading the book, It brought up a lot of questions about writing style and development, in my opinion, and could lend itself well to a lesson surrounding author's
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is worth buying at the book store-- don't wait for it to be on the hold shelf, just go get it-- you'll be glad you did.