Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Summary and Study Guide

Jesse Andrews

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

  • 48-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 40 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree from the New School
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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 48-page guide for “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 40 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Debunking Narrative Tropes and Coping with Illness, Death, and Other Difficult Life Events.

Plot Summary

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews,introduces us to Greg S. Gaines, 17-year-old senior at Benson High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Greg is also the narrator of the novel. Over the course of his educational career, he has diligently developed a system that allows him to survive the daily pandemonium of life in high school. He maintains a surface-level, friendly-but-not-too-friendly connection to every clique in school so that he can remain virtually invisible and, therefore, safe.

The only person Greg risks some connection to is Earl, who he thinks of more as a co-worker than friend. He and Earl meet in kindergarten and eventually make over forty films together, none of which Greg permits anyone else to see. To admit that he is a filmmaker would disallow Greg’s ability to float in and out of all social groups, forcing him to give up his general likability.

Further amplifying Greg’s social anxiety is his long-standing inability to talk to girls. After several well-meaning but failed attempts at dating during middle school, Greg effectively gives up on ever having a girlfriend. He convinces himself that he prefers his system of avoidance because it grants him a painless existence in an otherwise chaotic world.

Greg’s mother learns that his classmate, Rachel Kushner, has acute myelogenous leukemia,a cancer that attacks the blood and bone marrow, and encourages Greg to befriend Rachel in her time of need. Greg and Rachel quasi-dated in Hebrew school, although Greg only showed interest in Rachel to try and get with her best friend, Leah Katzenberg. He remembers being able to make Rachel laugh, though, so he reluctantly agrees to call her.

After Rachel refuses several of Greg’s invitations to hang out, she eventually acquiesces when Greg lies to her about having been in love with her during Hebrew school. Usually the listener, Greg unwittingly becomes the talker in their relationship, causing Rachel to snort excessively at his unique sense of humor. Greg realizes he’s revealing more about himself to Rachel than he ever has to anyone else. Jester to Rachel is a role Greg fills well, and the two eventually include Earl in their group.

Rachel understands that Greg is protective of the films they make and respects his secrecy, but when Rachel’s illness worsens, Earl decides to show her the films, which infuriates Greg. When Madison Hartner, Greg’s crush, suggests that he and Earl make a film for Rachel, they toil over the assignment but eventually make Rachel the Film, a sort of compendium of several different film genres, including a direct address from the directors themselves.

While filming their personal messages to Rachel, Earl extends a heartfelt and emotional speech, leaving Greg completely disoriented as to how to match Earl’s eloquence. Although he realizes on some level that Rachel is dying, Greg bumbles through a dishonest you-can-do-it pep talk that he immediately knows is not what he wants to say to Rachel. Regardless, he edits the messages into the film.

Rachel watches the film several times and likes it, but not as much as some of their others. Greg is grateful for her honesty. She asks Greg for one more favor: that he and Earl use their films to apply to film school.

Greg knows he is close to failing out of high school because of all the time he’s spent with Rachel, and working on the film. His teacher, Mr. McCarthy, agrees to help him after school, but when Greg’s mom goes behind his back and has Principal Stewart show Rachel the Filmto the entire school, Greg stops attending and locks himself in his bedroom. He and Earl stop talking, and Greg destroys all their films. He then receives a call that Rachel is back in the hospital.

As he sits in Rachel’s hospital room, Greg realizes he struggled with making her a film because he didn’t really understand death, and he didn’t understand Rachel. Greg leaves the hospital, knowing it will be the last time he sees her.

Greg and Earl reunite over some Vietnamese soup, and Earl announces his retirement as a filmmaker. He suggests that Greg do the same and not live his life according to a promise he made to a dead girl. Greg considers Earl’s advice and instead decides to write a book about his experience and submit it to the admittance board of the University of Pittsburgh to convince them to readmit him to their school.

He also decides to come out of retirement to make a film at some point in the future.

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