HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Author: Jesse Andrews
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, 2015
Language level: 5!!!!!
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: I don’t recommend it for anyone
Rating: 0 stars (NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Andrews, Jesse. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (published in 2012 and republished in 2015 by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, 115 W. 18th St., New York City, NY 10011). “Me” is Greg S. Gaines, a seventeen year old, slightly overweight, near-sighted Jewish boy who lives in Pittsburgh, PA, with his father Dr. Victor Quincy Gaines, a professor of classics at Carnegie Mellon University; his mother Marla Gaines, executive director of a non-profit that sends Jewish teenagers to Israel to work on a kibbutz; his younger sisters Gretchen and Grace; and pet Cat Stevens. Greg, who tries to be friends with everyone by being close friends with no one, is entering his senior year at Benson High School and narrates the story. “Earl” is Earl Jackson, an African-American boy who is Greg’s only real friend. They like to make films together. “The dying girl” is Rachel Kushner, a former heart-throb of Greg’s from sixth grade in Hebrew school who develops acute myelogenous leukemia in their senior year. Greg’s mom forces him to renew his friendship with Rachel.
Will Greg and Rachel fall back in love? Will Greg and Earl remain friends? And what will happen to Rachel? When I saw this book in Wal Mart and read the description, I thought that it might provide a sensitive portrayal of how to deal with a friend who has a life-threatening disease. But after I started reading, I was very quickly disabused of this notion. On page 3, Greg says, “I learned absolutely nothing from Rachel’s leukemia.” The basic premise of the book is “that high school sucks.” The word “suck” in this sense is a rather common term today for something distasteful or annoying, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that this usage has its origins in describing a sexual act. And it goes downhill from there. The dialogue is literally filled with not only all kinds of cursing and profanity, such as the “d” and “h” words and taking the Lord’s name in vain, but also a lot of vulgarity and obscenity, including copious appearances of the “s” and “f” words, along with a great deal of sex talk, vulgar slang terms for human (and animal) sexual body parts and functions, and references to making out, losing virginity, impregnating girls, and even masturbation. Some casual drug use is also mentioned.
In fact, in his Acknowledgments, the author himself admits that it is “a very profane manuscript.” I suppose that the justification for all this vile filth in a book aimed at young people is that it accurately represents the kinds of experiences that teenagers have in high school today and reflects the angst of twenty-first century youth. That may be, but they are precisely the kinds of experiences and angst that Christians, and especially those of us who homeschool, work hard to see that our children avoid. The truth is that I find absolutely nothing of benefit in the book for those who are striving to perfect holiness in the fear of God. Kirkus Reviews said that it is “Believable and sympathetic.” That does not surprise me given the reputation of Kirkus. At first, I was going to give it a one star rating (very poor), but then the language got worse towards the end, so I decided to give it zero stars (not recommended). The book was made into a 2015 film. One reader reviewer summed up my feelings exactly, saying “More horrible language than story,” adding that “The movie was better.” Maybe so, but I have no desire whatever to see the film.