Genre: Young Adult
High school jazz camp: where the cool kids spend their summer. Just kidding. There are no cool kids at jazz camp. Kool Katz in fedoras? Different story. So even though best friends, Wes and Corey, love music, they’re not exactly thrilled to be spending their holidays at Bill Garabedian’s Jazz Giants of Tomorrow Intensive Summer Workshops. In fact, it’s high on their growing list of things they hate.
There’s another problem too. In Wes’s words: ‘Jazz camp was mostly dudes. It was just a scene of way too many dudes.’ So when he and Corey miraculously befriend Ash, one of the only girls in camp, and she even more miraculously suggests they bust out in the dead of night, hit the road and play some real gigs, the boys are IN.
So begins the Summer of Hate Tour: an epic road trip across America, with the trio intent on playing as many gigs as they can land en route to their final destination, New Orleans. …Or until the police catch up with them.
The Haters (Allen & Unwin, 2016) is a compelling, fun-filled romp about having the courage to set your own course and own what you love, even if everyone else thinks it’s lame.
It’s a cliche to say ‘I was hooked from page one’. But there it is. I parked myself on the couch with a good supply of tea and snacks and didn’t get up until the story was done. That’s exceptionally rare for me.
It wasn’t that the story was revolutionary. The Haters follows the well-worn plot line of every road novel since Kerouac: a group of friends set out on a crazy, ill-conceived drive across the country heading for a nominated Promised Land. They meet a cast of colourful characters along the way and inevitably draw the cops’ attention. Tensions rise, conflict ensues, disaster strikes and everyone walks away a little worse for wear but with also with a deeper understanding of themselves and the things that matter most.
It was Wes that kept me glued to the page. He’s hilarious: mocking and self-deprecating, yet earnest and eager to impress his reader. Much of the story is direct narration, but occasionally Wes mixes it up with fake Wikipedia entries, dialogue written like a film script, decision trees, at one point a Courtship Initiation Sequence Checklist, etc. It’s playful and self-reflexive and the switching between styles helps give Wes an authentic teenage voice. It’s also really engaging having a narrator speak directly to the reader and comment on his narrative as he goes. For example, here Wes explains, or tries to explain, what it means to be a hater:
Haters aren’t people who hate stuff. Haters just hate on stuff. And just because they’re haters doesn’t mean they don’t love stuff, too. You can love something and hate on it at the same time. In fact for me it’s kind of impossible not to.
This is going to get complicated, but maybe if I make a new chapter it will not be as complicated.
He starts a new chapter, title: ‘Nope, Still As Complicated’.
Wes, Corey and Ash make a great trio. Ash is the ringleader: intelligent and bold but also reckless, selfish and a bit of a spoiled brat. Corey is laid back and goofy and the most immature of the bunch, while Wes is witty and sensitive but a total pushover. When they set out on their road trip, my first thought was: ‘Uh oh, here comes the tres predictable love triangle’. But I was WRONG. Okay, sure, there’s definitely some sexual tension and a bit of who-likes-who, because, well, there are three horny teenagers in a car. But Andrews is sensitive to the fact that none of them are ready for a full blown relationship. Instead, he focuses on their friendship and the fact that they’re all still learning what it means to be a good friend. While Andrews’ has fun with the sensationalised plot, the developing relationship between the trio feels very genuine.
The Haters is YA, but the central theme running throughout speaks to adults as well. Wes, Corey and Ash are haters because it’s safer to sit back and criticise what everyone else is doing than to make themselves vulnerable by taking action. It’s easier to hate jazz camp and all the other campers than to admit you feel like an imposter and that most of the other kids are better musicians. Better to hate on all music than fess up to a favourite song in case your best friend thinks it’s lame. I only have to scroll through my Facebook or Twitter feed to see that this isn’t an adolescent habit we outgrow. We love to feel superior by putting others down, but Andrews points out that we’re never going to be perfect so we shouldn’t be afraid to put ourselves out there and that we miss all the best bits when we’re jeering from the sidelines. As music producer Big Pritch reminds Wes:
No matter who you are. What you are. Where when or how you are. There’s always something bigger than you and always something smaller than you. Always something faster than you. And always something slower than you. Always something older newer lighter heavier brighter darker. Anything.
Later, Ash’s friend Onnie tells the trio to get off the bleachers and into the game before the stakes get high and it becomes too hard:
Cherish this part. Before the triumph and the failure. Now, when you’re too young to win or lose. Before you know what winning or losing would even mean. Try to be here, now, and cherish it.
This is one of the myriad reasons why I love YA; you can’t write stuff like this in adult fiction without sounding super corny.
The Haters is one of those rare, uplifting reads: smart, heartfelt, hootingly hilarious and bursting with bright energy and hope. It makes for excellent company on a bad day.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for providing a copy of The Haters in exchange for an honest review.
Thanks also to Grammarly for picking up nine critical issues and nineteen advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!
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