by Jesse Andrews
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Oh man. OH MAN. You wouldn’t think it from the title, but this book is hilarious. For me, it’s mostly in the narration, but also partly the character of Earl. I was quite frequently reduced to fetal position laughing. The narrator is Greg Gaines, a high school senior who has spent his whole secondary career crafting a carefully balanced persona who is vaguely liked by everyone. The upside is that no one hates him or beats him up; the downside is that no one really cares about him. This careful balance is thrown off when a girl he used to be sort of friends with is diagnosed with cancer and Greg’s mom forces him to befriend her again. His mom seems partly, like many moms, pushy and clueless, and partly, like very few fictional moms, really quite wise and ultimately gets through to Greg.
The list of people who don’t deeply care about Greg extends to his supposedly closest friend, Earl. Earl is basically the polar opposite of Greg in everything from physical looks to upbringing to how they relate to Rachel (the eponymous dying girl), and yet they have in common a love of experimental filmmaking. I don’t want to say much more so as not to ruin it, but this is not your typical girl-with-cancer story. The ending turns a little sweet and introspective, but still very much Greg Gaines. A couple of warnings: 1. Earl’s language is pretty crass and there’s talk about drugs, and 2. Some of Greg’s humor is self-deprecating on account of his weight. But overall, the humor is unique and wonderful and had some insights to impart about the nature of friendship and going through life keeping people at arm’s length. (I am curious how they made this into a movie, but have been told it’s very good.)