On the back of the book, it says, “This is the funniest book you’ll ever read about death.” But after reading Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, I think it’s simply the funniest book you’ll ever read, period.
The title basically explains the plot of the book: There’s “Me” (Greg Gaines, narrator) and “Earl” (his best friend) and the “Dying Girl” (Rachel Kushner, a girl with cancer). Greg’s mom forces him to hang out with Rachel when they find out she has cancer, even though Greg and Rachel haven’t really talked to each other since sixth grade and so he does because You Do Not Say No to Mrs. Gaines and then the story unfolds. And Earl is in there a few times. He’s cool.
It’s a simple plot told by a hilariously quirky high-schooler narrator. Greg’s voice—whether he’s making his way through one of his signature riffs or insisting that his films are the worst things ever, like, seriously ever—is so unique and self-aware and ridiculous that you can’t not keep reading (even though he constantly questions why you, yes, you, do). If this book were told from any other point-of-view, it would not have worked.
And it’s not just the way Greg speaks. It’s the way he organizes information. He’ll tell you a story and then he’ll mention this one little detail and go off on a tangent about said detail until you know exactly what he thinks about the tangent and what that tangent represents and probably even what that tangents zodiac sign is and everything there is to know about the tangent and then he’ll just move on to the next paragraph (because he’s actually writing the book, not Andrews) and start it with:
Anyway. Blah blah blah paragraphy stuff writing writing yeah. (This is just a sample. The book is not actually just full of “blah blah blah paragraphy stuff. I’m simply demonstrating the use of the “Anyway.”)
So that’s basically how it’s done.
And that doesn’t even really happen that often, it’s just so representative of how fascinating this voice is. I’m honestly in awe of how Andrews was able to portray this character so clearly and effectively. There is not a single line in this book where it could have maybe, possibly been told from a different human being. Each sentence, each word, is carefully chosen to show off Greg’s unique narrative style. And it works.
It definitely works. It works so well that, while reading this book, I laughed aloud—audibly laughed aloud, not just one of those exhaling-a-bit-more-forcefully-through-your-nostrils laugh—multiple times. It’s a funny book, because Greg is just a funny guy.
Oh yeah, and, like I wrote about three hundred twenty words ago, this book is about cancer. Cancer. Cancer books are not supposed to be funny. But somehow, (well, not really somehow, because I just told you how in the words above) Andrews makes a cancer book funny. And not like in a butt of the joke kind of funny either. Genuinely funny. I wish I could write books that are that funny.
I realize that this review basically boils down to exactly four words: This book is funny. One word if you really want to downsize it: funny. This book was funny, and it was a well-executed funny. A good funny and an addictive funny and a well-thought-out-with-fascinating-characters-and-sometimes-it’s-told-through-script-and-other-forms-of-prose-and-also-interesting-plot-about-movies-and-high-school-and-cancer-and-such-et-cetera-et-cetera funny. Funny all around and funny just the way it should be. Go read it.