This book was not my idea.  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was one member’s choice for next month’s discussion in a book club I was recently asked to join.  This is exactly the sort of reason I generally avoid clubs: people inevitably want you to spend a whole bunch of your time doing stuff you don’t want to do…like reading about a high school girl dying of cancer. But I begrudgingly decided to just do it because I like these book club people and because I am working to expand my repertoire of kidlit.

The story revolves around Greg (the “Me” in the title). During his senior year of high school he is guilt-tripped into hanging out with Rachel, the dying girl, by his mother who is friends with Rachel’s mom. Then Greg’s best friend and “co-worker” in film-making, Earl, starts hanging out with them too. Hilarity ensues. They begin working on a new film, but after several false starts, one involving sock monkeys, they decide to take a different approach:

“We were inspired by You Tube. God help us. Like whiny boring people all over the world, we decided that the best way of expressing ourselves was just to stare into the camera and talk.”

The whole book was delightfully funny.  On purpose, even. It had this whole meta-analysis narrative embedded in the story that fixed a lot of the problems that a book about a dying girl is bound to have for the reader.

The author, Jesse Andrews, nailed the description of the social atmosphere of high school. There was a fight scene — well if you could call it that; it was more of a get-beat-up scene — that summoned images of Lord of the Flies in my mind. It managed to be both oddly disturbing and amusing. The characters, even the minor characters, were quirky, multidimensional and layered. The view of other characters from Greg’s eyes were along these lines:

“Mr. McCarthy had a look on his face of deep concern. It was definitely out of character for him and it was sort of distracting me. It was like when a dog makes a human-style face at you and you’re temporarily thrown off guard by it. You’re like, “Whoa, this dog is feeling a mixture of nostalgic melancholy and proprietary warmth. I was not aware that a  dog was capable of an emotion of that complexity.”

And speaking of emotions of complexity, last night as I finished the book, I sat in bed a confused mess – literally crying and laughing at the same time over the ending while marveling over life and death in general.

And this is exactly the sort of reason I join book clubs.

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