When I first heard that Jesse Andrews‘ debut novel Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was being made into a movie, and was being filmed here in Pittsburgh, no less, I immediately snatched the book up from our teen section at CLP – Mt. Washington.
Then it sat on a chair in my apartment for three weeks.
What can I say? It’s summertime. There are trails to be biked and girls in sundresses to be ogled. So after those three weeks lapsed, I renewed it. Again, it sat while I found other activities to do rather than diving into those meager two hundred and ninety-five pages. Suddenly, I saw that the holds list for the book was growing, so I got to reading.
I’m so glad that I finally did.
Narrator Greg Gaines is a high school senior who blends in with each social circle he encounters without ever fully becoming a member of them. His only friend is Earl and together they make weird no-budget home movies inspired by the likes of Werner Herzog. Greg’s only plan for his last year of school is to fly as low under the radar as he can. His plan is foiled when his mother decrees that he must revive his childhood friendship with leukemia-stricken Rachel—the dying girl of the book’s title. In the end, events transpire that cast off Greg’s carefully crafted cloak of invisibility that he has taken so long to cultivate.
I simply loved Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I was literally laughing out loud several times while I read it. The last book that made me laugh out loud as much was Mac Lethal’s hilarious and surprisingly heartwarming Texts from Bennet, a spin-off of the popular Tumblr of the same name. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is no less hilarious and no less heartwarming.
Since the book is based in Pittsburgh, I found it very believable and found myself easily relating to Greg. By now I’m sure you can tell that I love movies, not unlike Greg, so I saw a bit of myself there. But there’s more. I strongly related to Greg’s navigation of the cliques of high school. When I was his age, I would often imagine what high school would look like if the social scales were suddenly inverted. I always believed—and still do to this day—that if ever such a cosmic shift had occurred, I would have remained firmly in the center of the spectrum; my popularity would have been unchanged. I believed this because while I may not have been friends with everyone, I was certainly friendly toward everyone. However, my math might be a bit off since there were just over eighty kids in my graduating class whereas Greg goes to Benson High School, an almost certain stand-in for the recently sold Schenley High School.
Regarding the upcoming film version, news of it has been scant. As of writing this, the most recent piece of info was pictures of Olivia Cooke, the titular dying girl, surfacing from Comic-Con, sans hair. According to Thomas Mann’s Instagram account (because that’s a place we go to for news these days), filming wrapped on July 20. Mann will be bringing Greg’s awkwardness to life in the film.
I know I’m potentially setting myself up for disappointment, but based on how much I loved the book, I feel like I already love the movie. I know, I know. There are inherent dangers when adapting a book to a movie, but I have faith because Andrews himself wrote the screenplay. If Andrews loves films as much as Greg does, I have hope. There are several times in the novel when the layout switches from a normal book to the layout of a script. That was just one of the many things that endeared the book to me. I also loved how self-aware the book is. Greg is hilariously self-deprecating and directly addresses the reader several times. I kept thinking of movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Fight Club and Amélie while I was reading it. If the movie can capture even a fraction of the fourth-wall-breaking fun in those movies, I’ll be very pleased. This movie could very well—potentially—be added to the pantheon of my favorite Pittsburgh-filmed movies.
Andrews has crafted a story that is realistic in both its humor and its treatment of how I’d imagine a socially awkward kid would react to a friend dying of cancer. I certainly enjoyed the book more than a certain other book about a girl with cancer whose movie counterpart also recently filmed here. Is the trope “girls with cancer” approaching the territory of a cliché? I don’t know, but however you like your books about girls with cancer, either unrealistically saccharine or realistically humorous, you should definitely check out “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” while we wait for the movie. I’ll undoubtedly review it here whenever it comes out.
Have you read the book? Do you want to yell at me and tell me how wrong I am for not liking The Fault in Our Stars? Sound off in the comments below!