I really liked this book. The voice is so great–it really makes the novel. I also thought the humor was kind of random and spot on. I laughed several times while reading, though I wouldn’t be able to do a pull-quote. Most of it was contextual, and the way everything built up into a moment. The book is also not a traditional narrative; it’s told in lists and in screenplay format and regular prose. Playing with the format also adds to the voice.
What I think really works well about this book is that though it’s about a boy who befriends a girl with cancer (she is the dying girl, obviously.), it’s not about cancer. It’s about how this kid (Greg) who is really closed off emotionally and pretty high strung and selfish processes and deals with someone he knows having cancer. His actions aren’t pretty and he’s very self-involved, and that’s why it works. He stays at arm’s length from his feelings AT ALL TIMES and is not well-equipped to handle anything very serious. It shows in Greg’s relationship with Earl, too.
I also liked the ending because it showed that nothing really changes just because someone has cancer. It’s not usually this life-affirming event that propels those left behind into greatness. Cancer sucks and people are devastated at the loss of life and then life just kind of goes on. Unless, of course, those left behind are self-motivated.
While it’s more sad than anything, I also appreciated that Earl and Greg both had kind of resigned themselves to a certain kind of life and trapped themselves into their own narratives. I mean, it doesn’t have to be the way it winds up, but that’s the choice they both made.
Also, this is a pretty good depiction of social anxiety and crippling perfectionism.
My only complaints about this book are that Rachel is kind of a blank slate (which makes sense for the narrative–Greg, again, wants to keep her at arm’s length), and I would have liked to see Earl and Greg’s relationship developed more. However, even the lack of development in that area seems on purpose. Earl’s home life is pretty terrible, and at one point, Greg admits that he doesn’t even know how to think about or process how bad it is.
Oh, and the other thing that got annoying was Greg saying he didn’t know why anyone would still be reading the book. I didn’t mind the moments when he broke the fourth wall to talk about how trite the language was or how annoying he found himself or why he thought the story sucked, but don’t tell me I don’t want to keep reading, dude. I might have taken you up on that.
All in all, though, the book worked.
Anyway, I read this book before I saw the movie, and I have thoughts on how the adaptation worked, so I’ll be doing a post about the movie soon.