Greg Gaines introduces the central premise of the story he is about to recount: high school sucks. Greg uses Chapter 1 to introduce the reader to Benson High School in inner-city Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the various groups of students who go there.
Greg’s life started to change when his mom insisted that he get back in touch with a girl called Rachel who he attended Hebrew school with in the sixth grade. Rachel had been diagnosed with leukemia and both Greg’s mom and Rachel’s mom thought it would cheer Rachel up to spend some time with Greg.
Greg agreed to the plan but quickly regretted it when he and Earl struggled to come up with ideas about what the film should be. The film began to take over Greg’s life and he started to fall behind at school, causing his teachers to worry that he would ruin his chances of getting into a good college.
“Rachel the Film”. Unbeknownst to them, Rachel’s mom had found a copy of the film and had shown it to Greg’s mom. The two women were so touched by what Greg and Earl had done that they decided everyone should get the chance to see the film. Without telling the boys, the Principal arranged for a special screening of “Rachel the Film” for the entire school.
A few days after the screening, Rachel dies. Greg goes to Earl to talk about it and finds out that he too destroyed his copies of their movies, and is done with film-making for good. Greg tells him that he would be applying to film school instead of college. Earl is opposed to this, saying that Rachel's death shouldn't be affecting his future plans.
The book ends with him wondering if he should put Rachel in his next film.