Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.
Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.
Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.
And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is one of those books that I’ve put on my TBR and then taken off and then put on and then taken off seemingly countless times since it came out. I put it on my TBR because I liked the cover. I put it on because I saw a good review one time. I put it on because it has an interesting name. Every time, I took it off because I knew I wouldn’t actually like it.
And yet I checked it out from the library.
And, entirely unsurprisingly, I didn’t actually like it.
First things first, I was bored. I mean, books about cancer and death aren’t usually my cup of tea, but at least they’re not usually boring. You’d think, with all the filmmaking and the illness and Greg being a generally terrible person, that I might actually feel something other than boredom while listening to do this audiobook. You’d be wrong.
Actually, you know what? That’s not true. I felt annoyed. And not for the reasons that I’ve most commonly seen in the negative reviews I’ve read. Those reviews rightfully point out that Greg is awful, that the book uses a terminally ill teenage girl as a plot device, that the way the author continually refers to his book as horrible is pretty cringey… and all of that is true. But what really bothered me about this book was all of the casual racism that continually goes unchallenged.
And for every argument, there’s a counterargument, so I’m sure you could argue that this book is absolutely not racist at all or something. But I’m just going to say that I, a white person, knew that this book was written by another white person as soon Earl, a black character, made his first appearance.
Let’s talk about Greg first. He’s grown up in a loving, at least reasonably well-off family with parents that are still together. Both of his parents care about him a lot, but his mom especially is very involved in his life. Greg is also white, and so are basically all of the other characters in this book. The lone main character of color is Earl, Greg’s best friend, who is… a caricature at best, and an incredibly racist stereotype at worst. Because Earl is the opposite of Greg. He really has no adult supervision in his life. His father is completely out of the picture, his mother is an alcoholic who spends all of her time on the computer upstairs, his brothers sell drugs, their house is falling apart, and THE WAY THEY TALK. Did you know that you can write dialogue with a character of color without resorting to cringey stereotypes? I think Earl is the only character in this book who ever uses slang, and it’s the only way he ever talks. I hated it.
Add to that the completely unnecessary discussion on how bisexuality isn’t real and I’m just… heavily sighing. Like, there’s not even a bisexual character in this book. There’s just this random conversation where Greg and Earl talk about how bisexuality can’t be a thing because then you’d want to have sex with literally everything all the time and it made me so angry.
Now, you may notice that I’ve addressed Greg (the “me” in the title) and Earl and yet I have hardly any mention of “the dying girl.” This is because, despite being a titular character, she barely exists. I mean, sure, the plot kind of revolves around her, but she could be anyone. All she ever does is giggle and go to the hospital. Rachel and her illness only exist to further Greg’s character development. It really reminded me of All the Bright Places, in which Finch and his mental illness only exist so that Violet can react to them.
This book really just made me sad, and it’s not because of the cancer or anything else that was supposed to make me feel something. No, this book made me sad because I think it could have been a great concept, but it was absolutely ruined by almost everything that happened. As I finish up this review, my computer is telling me that it sounds “disappointed,” “sad,” and “confident” in what I’m saying. Good. I guess I’ve gotten my point across.
Have you read Me and Earl and the Dying Girl? Is it on your TBR?
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