Genre: YA, contemporary, humour
Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics. Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.
Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives. And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.
This book takes a different look at the ‘illness’ genre. In fact, it is less a book about a dying girl but a book about a socially awkward boy suddenly thrust into a friendship with the seriously ill girl by the parents. And Greg just doesn’t know how to deal with it so he goes the usual round and says a lot of funny, nonsensical things to fill the awkward silence. That tactic works for a while in cheering up Rachel, but ultimately drains him emotionally. He doesn’t find any big lessons in the entire event or start a romance with anyone, so I guess it is far more realistic in portraying the reality of illness and high school life.
“There was just something about her dying that I had understood but not really understood, if you know what I mean. I mean, you can know someone is dying on an intellectual level, but emotionally it hasn’t really hit you, and then when it does, that’s when you feel like shit.”
It is Earl, living in a highly dysfunctional family, who has a better grasp of how to deal with death and life in general. He’s more mature than the neurotic Greg. He also doesn’t let Greg say too much bullshit about the situation but helps him befriend Rachel. The boys have an odd friendship going on but I believe Earl enjoys the stability of Greg’s home life far more than Greg’s lack of self-esteem. He does a lot of things with Greg’s father but he does enjoy movie marathons and the subsequent movie remakes with Greg. This is the one thing nobody else does in his family – it’s just his thing.
The book is rather depressing since it is written from Greg’s warped point of view and he does worry about absolutely everything. He has a complete melt-down when Rachel’s friend learns about his movies and begs him to film one for Rachel. He has no idea what to make and the more he tries to make a ‘perfect movie’ the more he loses sight of what is truly important – spending more time with Rachel and living his own life to the full.
“And the point of Rachel the Film should really have been to express how awful and shitty that loss was, that she would have become a person with a long awesome life if she had been allowed to continue living, and that this was just a stupid meaningless loss, a motherfucking loss, a loss loss loss fucking loss, there was no fucking meaning to it, there was nothing that could come out of it…”
The chapters are quirky, sometimes written in script format since the two boys are filmmakers, and there are a few laughs in here, but mostly the humour is way too strange for me to appreciate. It’s still a quick read that brings with it something new – no clichés, but lots of friendship stuff. When you are tired of fantasy, dystopia or romance, pick up this book for a change. You may just recharge your reader batteries.
There’s also a movie adaptation of the book. I’ll post a review of it soon.