‘The Haters’ by Jesse Andrews: A Sex, Drugs + Rock & Roll-Filled Road Trip (Book Review)
From Jesse Andrews — the author of 2012’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which had its own successful, Olivia Cooke-starring film last year (that Andrews wrote the screenplay for) — comes The Haters, a music-infused journey with three teenage bandmates hellbent on reaching musical genius… or at least playing a decent gig.
The Haters (out April 5) introduces an eccentric trio of weirdo teens: Wes, Corey, and Ash (although one definitely maybe isn’t a teen, but really is), as they embark on a road trip adventure around the southern half of the United States in an effort to become a successful rock band.
Wes, Corey and Ash meet at a summer jazz camp in Pennsylvania that none of them belong at for various reasons. They jam together, which leads to the hasty formation of their unnamed band, and subsequently skip out on the camp to flit around state-to-state on a wildly nefarious and hilarious four-day excursion.
The pre-road trip portion of the story, which takes place at the camp, paints a seriously accurate picture. Andrews really knows his Jazz Voice, and the musicians that speak the language. (As someone who has experience with both of those firsthand, his descriptions from the camp are spot on.)
The whole story following is very sex, drugs and rock & roll, and definitely inappropriate. There’s approximately one and a half dick jokes per page (not really, but it sure feels like it!), in addition to somewhat detailed accounts of what goes on between the sheets, and lots of drinking and drugs. The inappropriateness of the story is tolerable though, and it’s commendable that Andrews doesn’t shy away from these topics. It’s fearless writing. These teens are real, developed characters with detailed backstories, flawed personalities, and each have their own rhythms - and they talk about sex. Shocking, right?
First, there’s Wes, our self-conscious narrator. A cynical bassist and self-proclaimed girl-obsessed boy adopted from Venezuela. Yay, diverse characters, and cheers to diverse characters who point out the way the world reacts to their diversity! We see the story through his eyes, and his hilarious observations about the people and places they encounter are poetically awkward. You’ll feel sympathetic for Wes pretty much the entire time, and just want to give him a giant hug.
He’s joined by his best friend Corey, an unstable percussionist with “no sense of social cues,” according to Wes, who isn’t much better himself at decoding social dilemmas. The two met in their inner-city Pittsburgh high school’s jazz band and find themselves in the lowest performance group at Bill Garabedian’s Jazz Giants of Tomorrow Intensive summer workshop. Corey can get annoyingly confrontational (chill, dude) and spends large chunks of the story basically unconscious, but there’s definitely a sweet bond between him and Wes.
They quickly meet Ash Ramos, a beautiful and mysterious manic pixie girl-type from New York who convinces the two to ditch their phones and go on tour -- all on her family’s dime. While Ash has an interesting (and sad) backstory, her moodiness gave an elasticity to the character that made you unsure of her actual thoughts for the entire story. Then again, what’s a teen without a little angst?
While describing these characters, I never once gravitated towards the word “quirky,” which is a huge accomplishment considering any other YA in the same bucket would definitely fit that adjective. Andrews has written characters that aren’t unique for the sake of being unique, but are really just an amalgamation of everything we learn about them.
While The Haters may dip into your usual YA about music-obsessed nerds who namedrop bands constantly, it’s much more than that: Wes, Corey and Ash go on a legitimate road trip (and later, a drug-induced trip) with consequences and dangerous circumstances. Most of the story is spent avoiding law enforcement. At times, this book will make you want to fist-pump Breakfast Club-style when an impossibly triumphant thing occurs, but Andrews is also constantly reminding us that there are risks when you’re three teens traveling across state lines, which is appreciated.
For fans of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Andrews follows up his debut with another best friendship between two awkward guys with home lives that are in no way easy. Of course, Ash takes on the role of the Complicated Female Character bringing chaos to their friendship, but that’s pretty much where the thematic similarities end. Unfortunately, as was the case with Me and Earl, we don’t know why Wes is writing this story, just that he is.
Andrews brings in some great stylistic switch-ups too: Where Me and Earl used film scripts for large chunks of the story, Haters throws in snarky formats to change the pace. Wikipedia entries, listicles, and even an ongoing list of proposed band names and what the names sound like they would be — which, really, please just give us a full book of those, thanks.
Haters also has a larger scale, not just spatially due to the travel aspect, but also emotionally. They really learn to know each other and themselves in a way that wasn’t shown by the end of Me and Earl. You don’t know how their lives will end up at the end of their tour, but you know somehow they’ll all be changed. This is especially true for Wes, who goes through the largest ordeal by far.
Overall: Don’t let your parents read this over your shoulder.
While it wasn’t quite as enjoyable (or relatable) as Me and Earl, it’s definitely still worth reading if you’re a fan of Andrews’ humor. There’s undeniably a target demo here for teen boys, but don’t let any naysayers push you away from reading this clever book.
Release date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Amulet Books
Pages: roughly 352
Genre: Contemporary YA fiction
PopCrush rating: 3.5/5
I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to ABRAMS Kids for providing it to me!