Me & Earl & the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews Book vs. Film Review
Publication Date: March 1st 2012 by Amulet Books
Rating: – Acceptable
Book Summary: This is the funniest book you’ll ever read about death.
It is a universally acknowledged truth that high school sucks. But on the first day of his senior year, Greg Gaines thinks he’s figured it out. The answer to the basic existential question: How is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad? His strategy: remain at the periphery at all times. Keep an insanely low profile. Make mediocre films with the one person who is even sort of his friend, Earl.
This plan works for exactly eight hours. Then Greg’s mom forces him to become friends with a girl who has cancer. This brings about the destruction of Greg’s entire life.
Fiercely funny, honest, heart-breaking—this is an unforgettable novel from a bright talent, now also a film that critics are calling “a touchstone for its generation” and “an instant classic.”
Book Review Overview:
- Strong voice, but the humor can be love it or hate it
- Characters are better developed in the film
- Questionable portrayal of race
- Overall, I enjoyed the movie 10x more than the book
This is not usually the type of review I write on my blog, but after watching Me & Earl & the Dying Girl at the theaters with my best friend, I was inspired. I loved the movie so much that I wanted to read the book. (Disclaimer: I’m usually a book-before-film kind of girl.)
Before I go into my review, I’ll remind everyone that I’m the type of person who prefers not to watch every single young adult adaptation. Ever since I took the Lit to Film class in college, I found myself excessively critical of any book-to-film adaptations. In general, when I do make it out to the theaters, I have very low expectations… I’ve been disappointed by way too many YA films (*cough*HungerGames*cough*).
One of the first things that struck me when I read the book is that the narrator, Greg, has a very strong voice.
Greg is an outsider. He survives high school by existing on the fringes of society. He’s acquainted with all the cliques at school, but never to the point that he is associated with one particular group. When Rachel, a childhood acquaintance from Jewish school, gets diagnosed with cancer, Greg’s mother urges him to be a “good friend” to Rachel by spending time with her. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews follows the story of what happens when Greg develops a friendship with a girl dying from cancer.
I think Greg’s voice falls on one of those extremes of either you love it or you hate it. If you love the voice, chances are that you will think that he is hilarious. On the other hand, if you do not like the narrator, I can easily see readers to find him to be obnoxious.
Personally, this is not the kind of voice that I would generally lean toward. However, because I have seen the movie before reading the book, I can picture the narrator more clearly. I can hear the actor’s voice in my head and the delivery of the jokes come through.
Greg Gaines has a very strange sense of humor, and it’s another one of those things that you either get or don’t get. For the most part, I did not find the book to be laugh out loud funny. There were a few chuckling-inducing scenes, but that was about it. On the other hand, the actors in the film brilliantly conveyed the comedy. I remember thinking to myself during the first 10 minutes that I wasn’t sure bout the humor in the film. But after a scene involving a pot of Vietnamese pho, I found myself laughing uncontrollably.
As I continued to read the novel, I noticed that Greg’s relationship with Rachel feels more fleshed out in the movie than the book. Basically, all I got from their relationship is that Rachel snorts a great deal at Greg’s jokes. I never felt the bond grow between them, and I didn’t feel how close the two had gotten as the story progressed.
I think this has to do a great deal with Rachel’s character development. She is literally just a dying girl in the book, almost used just as a plot device to help Greg’s character develop. I never really got to know Rachel as a person, and her character felt really flat. On the other hand, the film did such a great job of developing Rachel’s character. Within the first fifteen minutes of being introduced to Rachel, I already knew: I did not want this girl to die. Film-Rachel sparkled with personality. Her laugh was infectious and she was the kind of girl I would have liked to hang out with in high school.
What I found worrisome in both the book and film (more so in the book than the film) is the portrayal of race. Greg’s best friend, Earl, is black. Throughout the book, I worried that Earl’s character is almost caricatured in order to provide comic relief. Earl is smart, but lazy and he takes remedial classes at school. On the other hand, Greg does see him as an equal. He calls Earl his coworker and credits Earl whenever he has a great idea. He says that Earl is sometimes a better human being because he is kinder and can sympathize with Rachel a lot easier. My biggest problem with Earl’s character is that he speaks in heavy slang. Greg constantly has to translate “Earl-speak” when in a group conversation with others. Earl’s slang was really difficult to read, and some of it was almost incomprehensible to me. I just wonder if this was really necessary, especially because he is a pretty important character in the book.
Another cause for concern is Earl’s family, whom I felt were heavily stereotyped. Earl’s stepfather is in jail, and his mother is an alcoholic. His family is poor and the house is falling apart. His older brothers do drugs, affiliate with gangs, and tend to be violent. His background explains how Earl becomes an extension of the Gaines family. Despite the fact that Greg mostly refers to Earl as a “coworker”, it shows how close they really are based on Earl’s relationship with Greg’s family. Even though Greg doesn’t want to admit it, Earl is his best friend.
Since I am a Person of Color, I’m always on the lookout for the portrayal of minority characters in YA novels. It’s not enough that there is diversity in the books we are reading, but how are these characters being represented? Me and Earl and the Dying Girl lies on a very thin line between comedy and cultural misappropriation. While I can’t speak from a black reader’s perspective, Earl and his family’s portrayal made me uncomfortable enough to question it.
Lastly, it is hard to write a review about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews without mentioning the movies! Greg and Earl are amateur filmmakers who are inspired by obscure avant garde films that they watched when they were younger. Inspired by their favorite films, the two set out to remake their own versions.
Unless you really know your movies, it is hard to appreciate Greg’s love of films. While I recognized a handful of the films that were mentioned, I’m sorry to say that I haven’t seen most of them. In addition, I loved how Greg’s passion for film is conveyed through scenes in the novel written as a screenplay. The different format adds a fun layer to the standard prose.
One of the best things about the film is how it brought their films to life. The film does an amazing job recreating the sequels that they made – complete with sub-par acting, homemade effects, and bad lighting. To actually see the films come alive rather than just reading about them on the page, I can see how two eleven-year0old boys can fall in love with film-making. The clips from these “homemade” videos are enough warrant this film a must-see.
In conclusion, watch the movie. It’s rare that I ever say this, but I confess that the film is better than the book. The characters come truly alive in the film. Since Jesse Andrews wrote the screenplay, to me it feels as if he used the film to develop the characters even more. The film feels like a polished, near-perfect version of the book. I’m already excited to give this film a second watch.