It seems like every man and his dog are writing books about teenagers contracting cancer and having their love lives torn apart as a consequence. The list is verging on endless, only starting with The Fault In Our Stars by John Green and Now is Good by Jenny Downham. These books always include one or both of the couples contracting the vicious disease and one or both of those people dying. Whereas i find teenage cancer novels to be an interesting read (something to really curl up and cry to when you need it) they have become very similar to one and other. I’d been putting off reading Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews for a couple of years mainly because my heart couldn’t take the rollercoaster I thought it would have to go through reading it. I knew very little about the novel as I started reading, and it ended up being quite a surprise!
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is based around the protagonist Greg and his film making partner Earl. Greg is a little bit hopeless in most aspects of his life. He’s useless with girls, he doesn’t have many friends and worst of all he’s really bad at making films. He finds out one day that his tragic ex-girlfriend Rachel has leukaemia and as some parents would, his mother forces him to befriend her once again.
Most cancer stories (especially ones that i’ve read) would lead you down a path titled “Greg’s new found appreciation for life.” That’s where this novel is cleverly different. Greg is a very honest narrator and he will not spare any detail of what is actually going on inside his head. If he thinks something is crap (mostly his films) he will fully admit it down on paper. It’s refreshing to read a sad story told from such a cynical point of view if I’m honest. Greg doesn’t find a new passion for life, or even a passion for Rachel as he watches her battle with own body. He remains himself and just tries to cheer her up by making her laugh.
Jesse Andrews gives a far more real version of a teenage cancer story than I’ve ever read before. Novels such as The Fault In Our Stars and Zac and Mia in which two cancer patients fall in love (whereas they are heart-wrenchingly amazing) don’t feel to me as though the characters are real people going through these traumatic experiences. I think some part of this is down to the story being told from Greg instead of Rachel herself. Greg isn’t feeling any of the pain Rachel is and is so emotionally far from her family he can step back and talk about his own life ambitions. Me and Earl differs from novels such as My Sisters Keeper by Jodi Picoult, Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness because the protagonist isn’t emotionally involved with the dying character.
I think writing novels about real events and illness is important. There are numerous novels written about 9/11 and the tsunamis that give a retelling of important events that have happened around the world where many people were effected. Cancer stories are the same, they give incite in to people’s lives that you might not have experienced personally. I’m a big fan of novels that are heart breaking. If a novel can make you feel so much that you cry I think it’s a big commendation to the author; they’ve clearly done something right! This is why for so long my favourite novel has been The Fault in Our Stars.
There are an exceptional amount of cancer novels floating around now (HERE is the GoodReads YA cancer list) and the question really is “where do you stop?” With so many more YA cancer novels being released, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is quite frankly a breath of fresh air in to the overcrowded genre.
Side Note: The writing style of Me and Earl is absolutely phenomenal. Most likely it’s my personal taste being a creative writing student and all (and me being a bit geeky,) but the way Greg’s writing changes to script every so often is exciting. That technique shows how fun reading can actually be. Also it works incredibly well with Greg’s film making career.