Filmmaking, as an interest for teens and young adult types, is one of those tropes that became the hallmark of a sensitive, complicated young male character sometime in the late 1990s. I blame this on Dawson Leery. You remember Dawson. He was the star of his own TV show on The WB and loved the work of Steven Spielberg. Anyway,
Dawson was supposed to be a sensitive, thoughtful young man. He was the kind of kid who saw things. Who appreciated things. Really, he was very annoying and got consistently out-shined by his best friend, Pacey.
Greg, the narrator and protagonist of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, resists this archetype. He refuses to allow himself to feel anything. He doesn't feel very much about his dying friend, his movie making endeavors, or even about his own future. Through his filmmaking, Greg doesn't have anything especially pressing to express. He simply floats along. Even when he is forced, by his mother, to spend some quality time with one of his classmates, Rachel, who just happens to be suffering from leukemia.
In some ways, Me and Earl...works almost too hard at avoiding the Love Story/Terms of Endearment/Fault in Our Stars model that it over corrects in the opposite direction. Yes, Rachel is dying. Yes, Greg and his best friend Earl spend some time with her. Yes, they create a film dedicated to her. But, none of it is allowed to be sad or even terribly emotional. Greg keeps everything at arms' length. This is to be expected of an authentic teen boy, but that he isn't allowed to actually explore what he feels about Rachel's death is not his fault: it's the author's. What Andrews does do, very cleverly, is explore Greg's friendship with Earl. The emotional climax of the novel occurs not between Rachel and Greg but between Earl and Greg. The argument that forces Greg to recognize that his "friends with everyone" strategy for surviving high school isn't working is the reader's one chance to feel any sort of emotion for any of the characters.
The novel is written as if it were Greg's "novel" explaining his poor grades during the fall semester of his senior year in high school. Even with all of Greg's self deprecation, the novel is funny, smart, and tightly edited. I enjoyed it but left feeling a bit hollow. I don't necessarily need a Fault in Our Stars-style denouement, but it would be nice to be allowed to feel something...anything.
I would recommend this novel to young male teen readers, those who enjoy the humorous sarcasm of Holden Caulfield, and anyone who wants to prep for the forthcoming film!
If you enjoyed any of these titles, you will probably enjoy Me and Earl and the Dying Girl:
The Truth Commission by Susan Juby
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin
The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp