‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’, though obviously dealing with the topic of cancer, it was not a story that had tears and hospital scenes on every page. Deeply emotional and truthful, it took a more humanistic response and dealt with the characters in the story, rather than making the cancer a main character. Instead, it showed the more emotional and mental effect cancer can cause both to the person suffering and to their loved ones. This was far more effective than hitting the reader with scene after scene of a young woman dying. This is, of course, the honest truth.
Rachel was dying.
But for the reader to see her in another light and to understand the very real and frightening nature of this disease is far more powerful in getting someone to think about their own lives and loved ones. Greg, someone who was not close to Rachel prior to this, finds himself in her bedroom, due to his mother’s influence and is asked to keep her company. At first, he does so because he was asked to, and after, he does so, because he wants to. Together with Earl, his friend from school, they would make films together, ones that he is very critical of and often tells the reader how bad they were.
But Rachel liked them.
And for her to like them was, for me, quite important to the storyline. Here, is a young girl who is dying. There is no cure for her and she will not live to go to college. However, if she can find happiness and laughter in something that is deemed awful, by the ones who have their whole lives ahead of them, then there must be something worthwhile in those films. It’s quite eye opening really, we spend so much time hating things and being critical of every little thing we do, when this could all be taken away at a moment’s notice. If anything, novels like these have made me realise how small we are to the universe and how, at any point in time, your life can either be taken from you, or changed forever.
Greg and Earl as characters seemed so at odds, it’s a wonder they were friends. Earl who was usually seen as loud mouthed and vulgar, actually cares for Rachel. And I think that it was really important that he saw what Greg didn’t, he was the one who knocked some sense into Greg’s head and said that it’s not important if she likes the films, or if everyone sees the films, she’s dying. That’s what matters. She has a limited time left and Greg was worried about films. Earl, I think, draws attention to the absurdity of that.
As someone who has witnessed a family member go through the process of having cancer, I found this book to be quite relatable, at least emotionally. When something like this happens, especially to Rachel who is known for smiling and laughing and snorting, it is quite daunting – that life can be ripped away, even from the brightest of people. And that in itself is hard to comprehend, so to watch someone go through that, is even harder – how do you react? The way Greg reacts was very telling – he felt guilty about her dying and the fact that they only became friends after her sickness and he cries, he sobs. There’s nothing else he could’ve done to help her and he realises that now she’s gone, all that time worrying about silly things, was pointless…because she was gone and she wasn’t coming back.
In the end, I really liked that Greg actually ended up applying to college and with Rachel’s help – the film made on her, the book. And this, in the purest and most bittersweet way, shows how someone, though no longer with you, can still affect your life. There’s something quite beautiful about that.