I’ve been focussing a lot on characters recently – in both my own writing (how to make them better) and in other peoples (what’s so outstanding about them). I’ll read pretty much anything if the characters are real. Give me an interesting narrator and I’ll let them fly me to the moon and back.
When I was a few chapters into Me and Earl and the Dying Girl I read a review that gave it 4 1/2 stars. I’m not a massive believer in star reviews along, because it can be so limiting, but still, 4 1/2 stars is pretty high. “It’s not that good!” I exclaimed to one of my colleagues. “I mean, it’s funny and everything – actually it’s making me laugh out loud, but it’s no John Green, that’s for sure.” If you’re reading this you’ve probably at least of John Green’s latest YA offering The Fault in Our Stars. Cancer books are apparently all the rage at the moment. I loved The Fault in Our Stars – it did exactly what this book purports to do – tell a story of real characters, funny and alive, who happen to be dealing with cancer. So I approached this book warily, wondering if it was going to be just a rip off.
Immediately the narrator told me that this is the worst book ever written, that I was going to hate it, that it might make me punch myself in the eyeball. Ok, I thought well at least it isn’t trying to impress me. By the end of the first chapter, I had snorted into my lunch several times. Begrudgingly, sure, but a snort’s a snort right? By chapter four there was nothing begrudging about it. Greg Gaines, the narrator is a pretty funny guy for someone who has been forced into a friendship with a girl who’s dying of cancer. Funnier still is his best friend Earl – straight up and more than a little crazy. Earl is Greg’s sort-of-friend who helps him make hilariously average remakes of films that are often fairly unknown to begin with.
The book is interesting in format – the chapters a broken up with scenes written like scripts. The language carries just enough slang to come alive and the characters all have distinct voices in your mental narrative. The secondary characters are funny too – funny because they’re so like adults, you laugh because they’re real.
There were times when I found the flow of the text jarring. Moments where I though ‘if you tell me I won’t like this book one more time I actually won’t’. But at the end I came out smiling. Some unfortunate things happened, and there were sad moments. But like so many sad moments, stories like this are often best told with humour.
No matter how you approach this, I’d be surprised if you didn’t come out smiling at the end.