Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - Jesse Andrews For the first two thirds of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, I totally forgot I was reading a “cancer book” because I was laughing too hard. The narrator Greg, a self-described chubby and pimpled teen with zero social savoir-faire, is a laugh riot. His bff Earl, a short black teen with insane skill in cracking dirty jokes and swearing profusely, is equally hilarious. Most of the hilarity comes from Greg’s self-deprecating narration. A few selections of his lol-worthiness: -upon being forced to see the eponymous “dying girl” Rachel, who is diagnosed with leukemia, Greg asks her mom what Rachel is up to. Her mom says, “she’s just in her room,” aka she’s horribly depressed sitting alone facing a possibly terminal diagnosis. Greg deadpans, “livin’ it up!”-Greg and Earl eat some pho, a type of Thai soup, and find that it has been laced with weed. Greg proceeds to get ridiculously high and perform some of the funniest drug incited shenanigans ever. This whole sequence had me in stitches.-I had a list of like five more hysterical moments, but I think it’s one of those “you had to be there” type things, except it’s more so “you had to read it” to appreciate the jokes. Basically, this book is FUNNY. But then the funny stopped. And the lagging pace began. And a very existential crisis developed. I suppose there are some spoilers in my attempt at literary analysis below but nothing too unexpected. Beware…So the last third of this book diverges from its funny ways and becomes, at least according to the way I interpreted it, a treatise against cancer books and an argument for the inherent lack of meaning in our lives. The whole case against cancer books is that you’re making a dying human into a martyr for the cause of making living humans’ lives newly reinvigorated and worth living. Which, admittedly, does seem to suck. While the dying human is forced to face the fact that her life will be meaningless (this situation is heightened when the dying human happens to be tragically youthful), the other living humans are able to find meaning in their lives. Essentially, by rendering cancer person’s life meaningless, our lives become meaningful. Totally fucked up, right? It’s almost like a blood sacrifice to the gods of nihilism; “Please gods of nihilism, take this cancer stricken human as a testament to the lack of meaning in this world. By way of thanks, allow us to find and maintain meaning in our own lives.” With this in mind, my thoughts turned to a very popular book published in 2012: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. There are striking similarities between Green’s work and Andrews’ work; they both pack in laughs while discussing CANCER. In the case of The Fault in Our Stars it seems that John Green was trying to deconstruct and subsequently reconstruct the cancer book genre, mostly by trying to refute the idea that a human must die in order for us to find meaning. But although I loved The Fault in Our Stars, I don’t think Green succeeded in that respect because the end is just as teary and full of Important Messages About Life as other cancer books. On the other hand, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl DOES, in my opinion, succeed in completely avoiding these cancer book tropes. What we’re left with is the idea that, honestly, there isn’t any meaning to life. The dying girl dies, and according to the narrator Greg, there is not much to learn from it. It sucks, of course, but people die, and we just need to learn to deal with the mortality of humanity. And surprisingly, this realization of nothingness might’ve been where the book lost me. I say surprisingly because I’m a huge lover of French existentialism and occasionally subscribe to a somewhat nihilistic philosophy. What I learned from reading this book is that I want it to matter. I want lives and deaths to be meaningful, even if in truth they aren’t. Andrews and the nihilists are probably totally right; life is meaningless, whether you die of leukemia at age 17 or die in your sleep as an octogenarian. But in books, in film, in entertainment, is it so wrong to want to be told that life is meaningful? To find some minor reassurance from the harsh world around us? Shockingly, I find myself saying no. No, it isn’t wrong to want meaning in literature and in life. So what my assessment of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl comes down to is how I feel about this message of meaninglessness. The last third of the book seems to be supporting this idea, thus it largely failed for me. But because this book made me think so deeply about these existential ideas and managed to thoroughly destroy all cancer book tropes, forcing me to realize that I sort of like cancer book tropes, I have to commend the author. I may not fully agree with what happens at the end of this book, but I surely respect it. Readalike: [b:The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian|693208|The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian|Sherman Alexie||829330] by Sherman Alexie. Another book featuring funny moments and a superb narrator voice that attempts to tackle tough issues.