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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Right away Greg Gaines, the "Me" of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, fires a warning shot for readers unaware of what they are about to step into.

I learned absolutely nothing from Rachel's leukemia. In fact, I probably became stupider about life because of the whole thing.

There you have it. Despite the terminal illness, this book is no weep-a-palooza. Its sickness is more in its sense of humor than anything else. Greg and Earl are best friends bonded by their outcast status. The former's social awkwardness and the latter's apathy toward polite behavior have led them to each other. Whereas Greg always says the wrong thing, Earl is a master of the profane. No sensitive ears need apply. Earl will destroy them.

The other thing that has bonded these two is a love of filmmaking. As kids they watched Werner Herzog's anarchic conquistador film Aguirre: The Wrath of God, a film so full of madness that Herzog threatened tantrum-throwing lead actor Klaus Kinski that unless he finished the movie, the filmmaker would shoot Kinski and then turn the gun on himself. The fact that the picture was made is a testament to Herzog's intense nature and perhaps Kinski's desire for self-preservation.

Greg and Earl are so transfixed by the film that they start to make their own. Soon they have shot titles like Earl, the Wrath of God II, Apocalypse Later, and Cat-ablanca. Even though he is quite prolific, Greg hates most of his efforts, and refuses to show them to anyone. Perhaps he truly is an artist.

When Greg's mom informs him that his old classmate Rachel has cancer, he doesn't want to visit her, even though she is the only girl who has ever laughed at anything he said. Greg begrudgingly goes to see her and finds himself agreeing to make a secret film about her. Little does Rachel's mom know about Cat-ablanca.

Greg and Earl struggle to make their magnum opus for Rachel, eat some possibly drugged pho, and figure out what comes after high school.

Make no mistake, the reaction from Greg concerning Rachel's approaching demise is surely an immature one, but it rings true as well. Facing tragedy does not always lead to stunning epiphanies, and Andrews accurately presents that fact.

The lack of weepiness, along with the terminal illness plotline put me in mind of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, which is a great book. This is not necessarily a great book, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. If you're on the fence about reading it keep in mind Greg's warning at the beginning. He does not change. Earl does not change. Rachel does....though not in a good way.

This is an anti-hero's journey, one that manages to capture the insanity of Herzog's conquistadors in the Amazon in modern-day Pittsburgh. Try the pho.

"I am the wrath of god. The earth I pass will see me and tremble."

                                                                             -- Klaus Kinski in Aguirre: The Wrath of God