The latest novel from the author of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “The Haters” is another coming-of-age tale that is good only when maintaining a suspension of disbelief.
Wes, Corey and Ash meet at jazz camp during the summer; however, none of them are very skilled or interested in jazz. Instead, they are interested in name-dropping many obscure bands in a way that sounds incredibly pretentious.
Author Jesse Andrews doesn’t seem to have a clearly defined plot. Wes, Corey and Ash leave the jazz camp because they don’t like jazz and end up deciding to tour together through the South having only practiced together once. Their trip doesn’t seem to have a clear purpose, and they meander from place to place with seemingly no rhyme or reason, meeting just the right people at the right time in an unbelievably contrived sequence of events. They’re doing the quintessential discover-yourself road trip, but all I discovered from this road trip was that the three main characters are extremely self-absorbed.
Another off-putting choice is Andrews’ use of script-style formatting for dialogue, rather than dialogue woven into the prose, the latter of which is a common technique in most novels. This makes the flow of “The Haters” abrupt and choppy, and further creates the sense that this story is just that―a story.
Literature is often read as an escape from reality. People find excitement in fantasy and science fiction, or solace in romance novels. “The Haters” is definitely an escape from reality, but not in a positive way. It completely misses the mark in its attempt to be realistic and relatable.
Much of Wes, Corey and Ash’s road trip is filled with sex, drugs and rock and roll. It is a nonstop barrage of stereotypical teenage rebellion: Characters have sex, smoke, drink and make countless genitalia jokes. But even amid the new experiences, none of the characters grows or learns anything.
A higher point of “The Haters” is its humor. There is more 12-year-old boy humor than high brow humor, but it’s nice to be able to laugh at something other than the utter predictability of the book. The inside jokes between Wes and Corey are funny, but not funny enough to make up for the lack of anything substantive, and the jokes themselves are rapid-fire and assaulting in their frequency.
Andrews does accurately portray teenagers’ desires to fit in, and his characters aren’t two-dimensional. But the relationship between Wes, Corey and Ash is never clearly defined. Who knows if they are friends, lovers, bandmates or none of the above?
The one achievement that could have saved “The Haters” is the one thing Andrews fails most miserably at creating―likable characters. Ash in particular is selfish and snotty, but Wes and Corey aren’t bundles of joy either, and all three of them make choices that hurt the band (and the plot) when they’re touring.
Ultimately, “The Haters” lacks a driving plot, and everything falls apart from there. Unless you have a burning desire to hear about obscure bands or vulgar jokes, this book is boring at best and offensive at worst.