By: Jesse Andrews
Release Date: March 1st, 2012
Publisher: FBA Powersetup
All most kids want to do is survive high school without being noticed (or if they’re noticed, for the right things) or made fun of (because no one wants to be laughed at). This is exactly what Greg Gaines wants, to survive and escape criticism. Unfortunately it is not so simple (it never is.)
Greg Gaines had gotten through four years of high school without extreme ridicule or conflict. While steadily in the “outcast” category of the populace Greg has one friend (whom he calls a “coworker”) Earl. Earl and Greg make films together (which started with them reenacting their favorite parts of movies) and has continued since then. In his ongoing effort to stay distant their friendship is really only around the films they make.
Greg’s mother finds out that a girl Greg was once, sort-of, friends with Rachel is sick with cancer. She forces Greg to reach out to Rachel and try to be friendly with her. Greg resists but eventually gives in and Rachel, understanding and blunt about her situation, doesn’t hold it against Greg or anyone around her.
One of the things I enjoyed about this book was that it wasn’t like the “sick teens falling in love” books that have filled the shelves of our libraries and bookstores. Don’t get me wrong, I like those as well, but it’s nice to see something step away from the pack once in a while and this book does just that. In the vein of not being the same as the other books, Greg isn’t perfect or sentimental. He is flawed and is aware of his flaws. He mocks himself, he allows himself to be real with himself and, therefore the reader. He is real in his feelings towards the entire situation he finds himself in –angry that he’s been stuck there, upset that he is more connected than he thought and confused about why he doesn’t feel more than he does, when he feels he should, in fact, be torn apart with emotions. He’s both disturbed and honest. Something that cannot be undersold when reading a book that deals with such a subject.
Secondly, and combining with how the book deals with the subject, the humor of this book is in every single word. Even the sad ones. Greg’s point of view is sarcastic, self-deprecating and truthful to what I remember my own high school stream of consciousness felt like at times.The voice is perfect, the humor true and the emotions, mixed with voice and humor, force you to keep reading so you can see just how this story turns out. I remember thinking as I read how perfect and absurd it was that I was laughing while reading a book that had a title with the words “dying girl” in it. Yet, there I was, laughing at it and enjoying the plot, jokes, sarcasm and absurdity of the characters.
Perhaps the thing I loved the most is that this book isn’t clearly set up as a “path to self discovery” type of book but, in the end, that is what the characters get from their interactions with one another. There isn’t a great life lesson to be learned. It is a story, a well written one, that shows us a snapshot of these characters lives. Isn’t that, in the end, what all books should be?