Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Haters by Jesse Andrews

Somehow, my branch of Canadian bookstore Chapters had a copy of Jesse Andrews's new novel The Haters last week, despite the fact that it's "book birthday" is today. But I didn't have an opportunity to start reading it until last night, and when I did, I read it all the way through, in-one-sitting style. The Haters is Andrews's sophomore novel, following up on the incredibly popular Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (and like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Haters already has a cinematic quality to it, and also experiments with the screenplay dialogue throughout. It's easy to imagine The Haters in movie form). 

The Haters focuses on best friends Wes and Corey, who are attending a two-week summer Jazz Camp. Chapter One is entitled, "We Didn't Know Jazz Camp Would Be This Many Dudes" and shows jazz camp orientation from Wes's perspective,
Dudes were trying with all their might to be mellow and cool. Everywhere you looked, a dude was making a way too exaggerated face of agreement or friendliness. And every ten seconds it was clear that some dude had made a joke in some region of the auditorium, because all the other dudes in that region were laughing at that joke in loud, emphatic ways.
They were trying to laugh lightheartedly but it was unmistakably the crazed, anxious barking of competitive maniacs. (1)
Jazz camp attendees have to audition for one of five bands that are ranked from most skilled to least skilled: the Duke Ellington band, the Count Basie band, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band, the Woody Herman band, and the Gene Krupa band. Wes and Corey make Gene Krupa, along with one of the only girls at the camp. Ash (short for Ashely) is a guitarist, and Wes is immediately into her. Also in Gene Krupa is Tim, an annoying guitarist who Wes watches do a brilliant solo: "The most sensitive, brilliant mind in the room seemed to belong to an unignorable scumbag. But that should not have been surprising. That's just how the music world works a lot of the time" (30). Wes and Corey love music, and they love to hate on it. Wes's memory of Corey hating on Kool and the Gang is kind of heartbreaking; when Corey doesn't like the band that Wes absolutely loves, it kind of ruins his own love of it. 

Later, Wes and Corey leave the jazz camp campus with Ash to get high-end sushi after a successful jam session, and the three immediately get in trouble with the camp staff. After that, Ash has no trouble convincing Wes and Corey to leave with her and tour as a band across the southern states. Her rationale? "I do like jazz some of the time. But I don't think any of the jazz I like was played by someone who went to jazz camp" (37). They leave their phones behind at camp (so they can't be traced by GPS) and set off in Ash's mom's car looking to book a gig. What follows is their road trip into the southern states, and pages are crowded with their conversations. They debate band names (Air Horse, Thundergarment) and try to come up with a slogan ("work hard, play hard" is vetoed after Ash describes it as "the philosophy of being a relatively high-functioning alcoholic"). 

Like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Andrews experiments with form and style. Dialogue between Corey's mom and dad and then Wes's mom and dad duels on several pages. A "Courtship Initiation Sequence Checklist" occurs on page 261. Screenplay dialogue appears frequently, and these back-and-forths between Wes and Corey (and also Ash) are some of the funniest in the novel.

The Haters is the perfect read for when you're up late at night, and a little bit tired, so that all of the jokes and funny moments hit harder than they would in the daytime. The Haters is a really funny book, with laugh-out-loud moments as good as those Louise Rennison consistently delivered in her Georgia Nicolson series. I didn't know I was looking for a YA book about a band tour until Andrews wrote one. Other YA band books that come to mind are Don Calame's Beat the Band  and K. L. Going's Fat Kid Rules the World, but The Haters is a much different book from those. The music references are endless and cover a wide range of genres and styles, and many serve to root the contemporary setting. The Haters is a fantastic book, completely funny and entertaining. 

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