Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

In an earlier post, I talked about types of book covers the male brain is neurologically incapable of perceiving due to the twisty-straw nature of male logic. Basically, if your book cover doesn't include lenticular gimmicks, a real hotdog or a free ticket to see the Lakers, guys simply cannot see it. Instead they see a blank spot on the shelf (giving rise to a well-known phenomenon called Male Swiss Cheese Vision Syndrome).

There are entire sections of the library most guys think are mythical. Don't believe me? Try asking your boyfriend to go get you a romance novel or something on midwifery. He'll just chuckle and say something like, "Sure, then I'll swing by Diagon Alley and pick up some unicorn droppings and mermaid scales to toss in the fairy parade."

Hey, girl, I'll get right on that.
In that earlier post I forgot to include "word-art" covers in the list of Books Men Cannot See. It's like printing a book using ink made from Ryan Lochte's modesty. My eyes simply cannot perceive it. 

Not sure what I'm talking about? Here's a classic example of a word-art cover:

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
by Jesse Andrews

Description from Oblong Books:

Up until senior year, Greg has maintained total social invisibility. He only has one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time—when not playing video games and avoiding Earl’s terrifying brothers— making movies, their own versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics. Greg would be the first one to tell you his movies are f*@$ing terrible, but he and Earl don’t make them for other people. Until Rachel.

Rachel has leukemia, and Greg’s mom gets the genius idea that Greg should befriend her. Against his better judgment and despite his extreme awkwardness, he does. When Rachel decides to stop treatment, Greg and Earl make her a movie, and Greg must abandon invisibility and make a stand.

Well, despite the fact that I couldn't actually see the cover (it's creepy, like holding an Acme Portable Hole in my hands), I read this book on a friend's recommendation. She said it was high-larious and unputdownable, this despite the fact that both of those phrases are capital crimes in Virginia.

I am soooo glad I didn't judge this book by its cover. Me and Earl is laugh-out-load funny (relax, that's just a criminal misdemeanor) even with Leukemia playing a central role in the story. I checked on Wikipedia and it turns out Leukemia is totally not funny. And yet the mix of comedy and pathos is deeply rewarding if a little unsettling because it caused me to sniffle-laugh my way through. I basically looked like this the whole time I was reading it:

That's right, this book is so good it makes me look Asian.

The secret sauce is Greg's almost magical ability to do things that are cringingly hysterical. For example, his movie adaptations, filmed with no budget and even less talent, often bear no resemblance to the films that inspired them other than having a similar title.

Without this humor, the heartbreak of watching Rachel's steady decline would be almost too much to bear. Surprisingly, the first person to understand Rachel's state of mind during this decline isn't Greg, it's his best friend Earl. In a lesser author's hands, Earl could easily have become a one-note pony (is that a thing? I'm making up a thing, aren't I?). Instead, Earl displays a complicated depth that, I'm not sure how else to put it, makes him a better human being than Greg.

Here's the thing. Greg is, at times, a total douchebag. And his bag of douche knows no bounds. Even when you think to yourself, "Geez, Greg, give it a rest and do the right thing," he doesn't, he just doesn't. He knows how he's supposed to behave and what he's supposed to feel but he won't/can't. And that felt very real to me. Because, while Greg is at times just horrible to a dying girl, he is, by and large, a really good person and very much her friend. I'm not sure you could better capture the nature of the teen mind, that dichotomy that exists when you're young and figuring the world out, trying to be yourself while being hounded by everyone around you to be something else, something better, nicer, good-er.

For all the humor and pain I experienced reading Me and Earl, the biggest revelation was seeing a freeze-frame of a teenager at the moment of self-discovery.

I really, really enjoyed Me and Earl. It's the perfect example of a book you don't need to wrap in bacon to get guys to read. So put away the Sizzlean and buy a copy for your reluctant boy reader, anyone who needs insight into the male brain, or, you know, anyone who can read. That's a lot of constituents to keep happy and author Jesse Andrews manages beautifully.

Did you read Me and Earl and the Dying Girl? What did you think? Tell us in the comments!

Copil is wary of dying girls ever since he saw Mandy Moore break Shane West's heart in A Walk to Re--*sob* to Remem--*sob sob*. . .oh, nevermind *sob sobby sob sob*. You can follow his ugly cry face on Twitter (@copil).


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