Friday, 19 June 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl


Book Title: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Author: Jesse Andrews
Date Started: June 14th 2015
Date Completed: June 19th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Comedy
Quality Rating: Four Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Three Stars
Final Rating: Three stars

While at times this book felt like a stereotypical contemporary cancer story, it also had elements of something new. Of course, since I don't really think this was consistent throughout the whole story you can make your own judgements on Andrew's originality, but I personally loved the story and concept of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - but quite frankly the narration irritated me persistently.

Greg's narration harassed me for the entirety of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. For me it just pushed too hard at trying to prove its meaningfulness by expressly claiming that it was pointless and terrible. Andrews forced that so many times I actually started to believe him. On the other hand, this exaggerated a part of the writing I really enjoyed: you could see the affect the experience was having on Greg not through his narration (where he blatantly refused to talk about his own emotions) but through the way his actions evolved throughout the story, and the way other people treated him. I think this created a really solid character, even if I didn't like him that much.
Another aspect I enjoyed writing-wise was the experimentation with formatting. As a writer and filmmaker myself, I understand the desire to unpredictably switch between prose and script and notes at random. It also broke up the long passages of narration really nicely when they were in danger of becoming boring.

Quite honestly, I didn't get along with this book at first - in fact it was only around the last third of the story onwards that I was really invested in what was happening. For me, the film aspects were the most interesting; it was what I was hoping would make this contemporary engaging for me, since I don't usually enjoy modern settings with teenage drama. The problem was, this only really came into play around 200 pages in. However, from there forward I loved the book: there was suddenly more going on, and even the characters felt more genuine and the narration started to have some meaning.
One aspect that caught me off guard was the family portrayals. I've heard this book regarded as really funny and entertaining, but I didn't really get this until the family turned up. I'm not even sure what it was, but some of the reactions to grief or awkwardness or even just affection were so embarrassingly accurate it became hilarious. Even in the grim circumstances, some of the reactions were meant so well but came out so inappropriate, it was very funny.

The characters in this novel weren't sold as awkward and quirky, but actually really great people underneath: something which has come to be somewhat of a convention in teenage contemporaries. But Andrews decide to create honestly flawed characters that don't handle the situation they're in very well at all.
Though I'm not a fan of Greg as a person, I understand why he was used as the protagonist: his narration annoyed me, but his insecure way of looking at things created an atmosphere that was different to a lot of contemporaries I've read. You got the feeling that he genuinely didn't find meaning in his friend's death, and he really didn't think that anything he did was worth anything. In many ways, the ending is even more upsetting because of this - but it was honest, and I really appreciated that.

I felt like Andrews just needed to get to the point a lot faster. I appreciate the development of Greg's character and familiarising the reader with his life and the kind of world he and the other characters were growing up in - but in the end, I'm not sure it added that much to the actual story. In addition, since the main thing that attracted me to this book was the filmmaking aspects, I was quite disappointed to find it barely featured at all until the last hundred pages.

Above most else, I believe that Andrews is actually a very skilled writer: yes, I hated the narration, but the subtext of the characters, particularly Greg himself, was really impressive. Contemporary-lovers will enjoy Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and I think anyone with a passion for filmmaking will enjoy the later aspects of this book. If you aren't a fan of high-school stories then you might struggle with the earlier parts of the book, and I would recommend you have an interest in the broad genre itself before picking this book up.

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