Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews ranks seventh on ALA’s list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2021. This YA novel was originally published in 2012, but this year marks its first entry into the top ten. A film adaptation was released in 2015.
About the Book
The novel’s main character and narrator is a 17 year-old loner named Greg Gaines. Greg spends most of his time with his best friend Earl, who shares his love for filmmaking. During his senior year, Greg’s mother urges him to rekindle his friendship with a classmate named Rachel, who suffers from leukemia. Greg attempts to connect with her by showing her some of the movies he made with Earl. As her condition deteriorates, he begins making a movie about Rachel, which thrusts him into the spotlight he has tried to avoid for all of high school. Despite its serious content, the story is told through humor using Greg’s distinctive teenage voice.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl received positive reviews upon its release and became a New York Times bestseller. VOYA called the novel “highly recommended reading material” and “a fascinating look into the mind of a teen” in February 2012, with the caveat that its use of crude language makes it best suited for older teen readers. School Library Journal recommends it for grades nine and up for the same reason. Kirkus (February 2012) also praised it, noting that Andrews “succeeds brilliantly in painting a portrait of a kid whose responses to emotional duress are entirely believable and sympathetic, however fiercely he professes his essential crappiness as a human being.” The Kirkus review also notes that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is very unique, despite comparisons to the similar subject matter in John Green’s 2011 bestseller The Fault in Our Stars. Booklist (March 2012) additionally called the work “profound” in its starred review. Saying “One need only look at the chapter titles (“Let’s Just Get This Embarrassing Chapter Out of the Way”) to know that this is one funny book.”
Several reviewers noted that the novel’s structure, which at times resembles a screenplay, makes it a good pick for reluctant readers. Greg narrates much of the story in a stream of consciousness style, making it relatable to teens.
“Mr. Andrews’ often hilarious teen dialogue is utterly convincing, and his characters are compelling. Greg’s random sense of humor, terrible self-esteem and general lack of self-awareness all ring true. Like many YA authors, Mr. Andrews blends humor and pathos with true skill, but he steers clear of tricky resolutions and overt life lessons, favoring incremental understanding and growth.”Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
One high profile challenge of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl took place in December 2021 before the Greenville, Michigan Board of Education. On December 13, parents complained to the school board about “vulgar” books appearing in school libraries. Andrews’ novel was explicitly named due to its language. This incident prompted a response from the author himself, who took to Twitter to express his feelings. Here, Andrews acknowledged the increasing prevalence of book challenges and linked to resources from PEN America about how students can fight for intellectual freedom.
Two months prior to the Greenville saga, Rep. John Ragan (R-TN) spoke out publicly about Me Earl and the Dying Girl as well, arguing that the book should be removed from schools due to its language.
The novel was also one of six books specifically called out in November by parents from Katy, TX for “pornographic” content. As part of their presentation, the parents asked not only for the books to be pulled from their collection, but also for an audit of all books in the library to find materials with “pornographic and sexual content” and formation of a committee to “filter” books before they are added. School officials removed all six books from the library a few weeks later.
Unsurprisingly, Andrews’ novel was named one of the most challenged books in Texas by NBC earlier this year.
Gretchen Kaser Corsillo (she/her) is the Director of Rutherford (NJ) Public Library and has worked in public libraries in a variety of capacities since 2003. In 2013, she received her Master’s of Library & Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. She also holds a B.A. in Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Political Science from Ramapo College. Prior to working as a professional librarian, Gretchen worked in the marketing and legal fields; the latter, combined with her interest in writing, has made her a strong advocate for intellectual freedom.