review by MARISA
When I first earmarked this title in the pages of a catalog, I thought it had an interesting cover (it’s one of my favourite YA book covers!), and would have potentially made it into my staff picks if it didn’t sound so similar to The Fault in Our Stars. Then I read it and found out that basically the only things they have in common were that they are cancer books that aren’t really “cancer books”, and they are both made of awesome. This book goes into my “seriously, everyone should read this” list, and reading it right after The Disenchantments (which was right after The Miseducation of Cameron Post) really spoiled me because now I’m expecting all the YAs that come my way to be excellent.
First, the story – Greg Gaines doesn’t really have friends, and he likes it that way. He’s funny and self-deprecating, with his own system to surviving high school – he is friendly with everyone, but friends with no one. The closest thing he has to a friend is the angry and violent Earl, although Greg considers Earl as more of a “colleague” than a friend. Together they make mostly bad, and sometimes decent films that they wouldn’t let anyone else watch. That is, until Greg’s mother makes him befriend Rachel, a classmate dying of leukemia.
I started reading this book expecting to cry buckets – which, okay, I kind of did, later – but instead I find myself laughing out loud in the train, as other passengers curiously and not-so-subtly try to find out what I’m reading. So – yes, Greg is funny. He’s also kind of a selfish jerk, a fact that he never denies. When his mother makes him befriend Rachel, he knows that he doesn’t have anything to talk about with her, and that he isn’t really interested in getting to know her. But he makes her laugh, and he likes that. When she finds out about the movies, Earl lends them to her, making Rachel the first to watch their work, and their first fan. I liked his friendship with Earl, how he went from mentioning Earl without actually introducing him, to stating that Earl is more a colleague than a friend, to finally thinking more about Earl’s life and what their friendship means. I liked that it’s Earl that confronts Greg about his selfishness in the end. And as for Rachel, I liked that she’s just a normal girl – we don’t get to know that much about her because Greg doesn’t know her that well. But she comes across as a normal girl who doesn’t get all wise and/or fragile because of her cancer, who starts off in denial and ends up tired of all the treatment she had to go through.
I enjoyed this book a lot, and probably would have loved it a whole lot more if it wasn’t for a couple of things. One of them would be Earl – I liked him, and his friendship with Greg is one of my favourite things in the book, but at the same time his character seems so stereotypically Black, so it would have been nice for his character to have more depth. The other would be the inevitable comparison with TFiOS. As a bookseller I enjoy, and would recommend/promote both titles equally. But on a personal level, I guess I was a certain kind of kid in school, and would have related more to Gus and Hazel than Greg, Earl, or Rachel. – Mari