Genre: Young Adult Fiction
This novel by Jesse Andrews was fresh, fast, fun, and had a unique main character. This is Andrews’ debut novel, which is really well thought out and written for a first novel.
This novel features amateur film makers Greg Gaines and Earl Jackson. When I say amateur, I mean their films are God awful, and nobody wants to see them because they are shoddy remakes of other films featuring Greg and Earl as the cast and directors. That is, no one likes their films except for Rachel. When Greg’s mother tells him that their neighbor, Rachel, is dying of cancer, his mom insists that he goes over to her house to spend time with her. Greg could care less, but he obliges. He eventually drags his friend, Earl, along to visit with Rachel. Greg finds the visits to be rather burdensome, while Earl points out how rude and negative Greg actually is. There’s not much else to say about the story itself. It is the way it is presented that makes the novel fast-paced and unique.
Greg Gaines is not the typical protagonist. He’s kind of chubby and unattractive, and he tries very hard to mesh with every group at school enough to be acknowledged by all but not enough to be a part of any one group. He doesn’t really want to belong, and neither does Earl. When they make a film about Rachel and the entire student body sees it, Greg and Earl (African-American–extra points to Andrews for adding ethnicity, thank God!) are neglected from all groups, being accused of wanting to show pride and not sincerity.
This novel is written in multiple formats: prose, listing, and screenplay. It is this back and forth between these kinds of writing format that make the novel fast, fun, and unique. Instead of dialogue to get the point across, Greg will show a screenplay of the conversation. To demonstrate various characters and their quirks, he may use a list. Greg does not see himself as a college-bound student, but when you find out why he is the one “writing” this book, it is an interesting, quirky end.
Let’s talk about young adult literature and leukemia. There are so many books out there involving young people and cancer, and at least 90% of those are related to leukemia. I wrote a paper on this in college in a class called “Literature and Medicine” (which I may publish as a separate blog post, we’ll see.) In this paper I mentioned the overuse of leukemia and that it is the option of choice for authors because it is a romanticized cancer. It is a cancer of the body that cannot be seen or removed, making it both beautiful rather than ugly, and fatal no matter what, so the reader will always know the outcome. There is hardly ever any other kind of cancer (who wants to read or write about rectal cancer?) which is totally unrealistic. So I do have to dock points from Andrews for using the cliché, romanticized form of cancer for his novel. There are other cancers out there, but they are apparently too ugly for our readership! C’mon authors, get real!
Overall this was a very wonderful read. Aside from the generic choice of the cancer, it was fast, spunky, and I forgot to mention the constant humor throughout the novel. I cannot even relay the extent and quality of the humor; it’s just something you WILL have to read for yourself. So, my friends, that is a YES, you should read it. If you aren’t hooked in by the first chapter, then you must not know what a strong voice in literature is!
On a side note, I have not yet seen the movie, but I plan on seeing it in the near future!