I’m trying to imagine the pitch for this book: We have a teenage narrator who is obsessed by film. But not current or popular films. Film school films. Obscure films. In fact, a major role in this book will be occupied by German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s 1972 cult classic Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Our narrator and his angry friend will remake it. Oh, and the third main character is a girl with leukemia. And the book has lots of profanity.
Author Jesse Andrews calls Me and Earl and the Dying Girl a “weird little book.” It is. But it works wonder with its weirdness.
“You can pretty much take any sentence in this book and if you read it enough times, you will probably end up committing a homicide.” This is the voice of Greg Gaines, the “Me” in Jesse Andrews’ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. And what a narrative voice it is—profane, witty, self-deprecating. Speaking of profane, the “Earl” of the title is Earl Jackson, Greg’s best (only?) friend, and the poet laureate of profanity. Earl and Greg make films together: Earl to escape his home life (he lives in squalor and his family puts the “diss” in dysfunction) and Greg to escape himself, though he is not self-aware enough through most of the book to realize this.
Greg’s theory about surviving high school involves hiding in plain sight—acquaintance with all groups, friends with none. This is where Rachel comes in. The Dying Girl. Greg originally spends time with Rachel only to mollify his mother, but his relationship with Rachel starts to affect his overall social invisibility.
Like the protagonists in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Rachel is neither a saint nor a stereotypical “Cancer Teen.” Her passivity in the face of her illness at times infuriates Greg. And the “lesson” is more nuanced than, say, a Lurlene McDaniel book. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is likely to be lumped in with TFIOS. Understandably, as both share a subject matter and a snarky tone that helps mitigate the treacle factor that stalks such a topic.
Andrews uses multiple narrative techniques to propel the story and construct Greg’s unique voice. Foremost among these is screenplay format, which, given the role film plays in Greg’s life, seems organic rather than gimmicky. Bullet points, interior monologue, and newspaper headlines also feature. Greg is the funniest young adult narrator I have encountered in some time; I think teen boys will respond similarly (that may say something about my maturity level).