This might be kind of cheating, since I think the prompt of “set in another country” was meant to inspire me to read a book by a European or Middle Eastern author, but technically the United States is a different country, and I was dying (no pun intended) to read this book.
For some, high school is about getting the best grades possible to get into a good college; for others, it is about having the most friends and attaining a popular status. For Greg Gaines, high school is about remaining at the periphery of everything, gaining access to every social group, while not being actually friends with anyone in those groups; just civil and pleasant enough to not make any enemies. During his first day of senior year at Benson High School in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Greg lays out a plan for remaining at the fringe of every social group. The plan works pretty well, until he gets home and his mom tells him that his childhood friend Rachel Kushner, i.e. the girl he met in sixth grade at Hebrew school that he talked to to make Leah Katzenberg jealous and then invented numerous funny excuses to not hang out with her, has acute myelogenous leukemia. His mother thinks Greg should visit her, because she thinks he could cheer her up. And so the random friendship of Greg and Rachel begins. Also, Earl is this guy who Greg thinks of as less of a friend and more of a co-worker: they make parodies of classic movies together. Earl ends up befriending Rachel too.
What I love about this book is the conversational, first-person narrative. It isn’t until the epilogue of the novel that the reader learns why Greg is writing the book about how he came to know Rachel, but the story sounds as though Greg just sat in front of his computer and decided to crank out a book about everything that happened in his final year of high school, which is the entire premise of the book. I found the writing to be so believable, and relatable, without all the philosophical waxing or existential pondering that usually seeps into young adult novels to show that teenagers can have deep thoughts too. It’s just the story of a character and his life, told as though you might be interested in it, but maybe you won’t be, and that’s ok too.
“When you convert a good book to a film. stupid things happen,” writes Greg Gaines, but I highly doubt that happened with the movie adaptation of this novel, which hit theaters in the US on June 15, 2015, but hopefully it’s already playing in your city, or it will be soon. It turns out that the author of the book, Jesse Andrews, also wrote the film adaptation of the novel, which means that the movie should closely follow the visions the author had of the characters and such. I made sure to go out and get this book ASAP so I could read it before I watched the movie, but knowing the author played a huge role in the film adaptation, it feels less necessary. If you’re interested, below is the trailer 🙂 🙂
Now for my little random facts:
I have no idea how to write this stupid book. Can I just be honest with you for one second? This is the literal truth. When I first started writing this book, I tried to start it with the sentence “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I genuinely thought that I could start this book that way. I just figured, it’s a classic book-starting sentence. But then I couldn’t even figure out how you were supposed to follow that up. I stared at the computer for an hour and it was all I could do not to have a colossal freak-out. In desperation, I tried messing with the punctuation and italicization, like: It was the best of times? And it was the worst of times?!! What the hell does that even mean? Why would you even think to do that? You wouldn’t, unless you had a fungus eating your brain, which I guess I probably have.
What I Loved Most: The bluntness of Greg Gaines’ narrative, and the no-nonsense way he explains his past, and how elements of his past feed into the present story he is trying to tell.
What I Loved Least: There is an awful lot of profanity used throughout this book. I’m not naïve to think that teenagers make it through high school without these words coming out of their mouths at some point, but it seemed like a bit much. I would have liked for these words to have been peppered throughout the story when the situation demanded, like to add emphasis of frustration or complete lack of understanding, but they were littered all over.
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.
I guess I want to write one more thing about Rachel. Rachel died about ten hours after Mom and I left the hospital. She had a weird Jewish funeral service at our synagogue and no one, thank God, asked me to say anything, and they didn’t show the film that we made. Rachel was cremated, and her ashes were sprinkled in Frick Park, where apparently she loved to go as a kid. She ran away there once when she was seven–not because she was trying to get away from home, but apparently just because she wanted to live in the woods and be a squirrel. It was weird to be learning something new about her even after she had died. Somehow it was also reassuring, though. I don;t know why. Maybe I should try to put her in my next film. I don’t know. Honestly? I don’t now what the hell I’m talking about. FIN.
Final Thoughts: Just a really good read. I finished it in about two days because I couldn’t put it down, and then went back through to read some of the lines I found particularly witty or noteworthy. It may be about death, but it is in no way depressing; don’t let the title fool you.
Next up is Attachments by Rainbow Rowell for a romance or love story!!!