Me and Earl and the Dying Girl took a pickaxe to my heart last summer. I was a popsicle, and that book was the heat of the summer sun beating down onto my unsuspecting soul.
You can imagine, then, the EXTREME PALPITATIONS I had when I found out about the April 2016 release of Jesse Andrews’ second venture into YA territory: The Haters. If you click back to the interview we had with him last June, you’ll get some background on MEDG, but also observe that he’s a an all-around A+ dude (when I told him that it was my first time interviewing anyone besides my cat, he reassured me he was just a regular human, *smiles,* and I think I sweat 80% less after that).
Haters is delightedly written in the same style as Me and Earl—first person, lots and lots of script-format dialogue, more than a couple lists and hypotheticals, a LOT of song references that the main character forces you to google before reading on. Not to give away too much, but there is also definitely something like Reid’s flowcharts in this book. You’ll be able to see how he was inspired by Jennifer Egan’s Goon Squad—putting words into formats other than paragraphs is a tall drink of water, tbh. To qualify the experience for you, I burnt my rice because I forgot it was on the stove while I was reading this book, and I almost never burn my rice.
You’re probably thinking, Who are the The Haters, and what are they hating on?
1. That’s why it’s such a brilliant title, and 2. you’ll have to read to find out. What I will tell you is that the person who has the most to say about that topic is Wes Doolittle, our narrator/bass player/hater supreme. Wes and his best friend Corey are high schoolers from Pittsburgh who trek through the hell and high water of Connecticut to attend jazz camp, which they soon realize they’re wildly unprepared for.
Not to worry, though. Wes and Corey snag the attention of the one girl at this camp on their first day by throwing a justified (I think) tantrum in rehearsal. She bestows upon them the honor of a jam sesh, they have a “we just FOUND OUR SOUUUUND” epiphany, and then they jailbreak at 2 AM to go on a two-week tour of the south. Turns out they actually kind of suck and end up performing in the pits of hell (acoustics-wise), like a Chinese food buffet and for a few minutes in the backyard of a nice lady they met at CVS. Really.
taken literally, her behavior is not at all manic (if anything, it’s depressive); i don’t think she’s physically pixie-ish (she’s athletic and kind of butch); she’s definitely pretty opposed to fulfilling wes’s romantic dreams, or for that matter anyone’s, because she feels mostly asexual; she is a girl; so to me, she’s 1/4. in general i think the MPDG label is badly over-applied, which sucks, because overuse makes it lose its usefulness. and it is useful for when writers are being lazy and gross and create female characters that are just sex objects with no interior life.
Ash is a fantastic character; a plot-creator, a personality, a complex human who refuses to drink smoothies for a very good reason. I can’t wait to see who’s cast as Ash when this gets turned into a movie—and it looks like it will be 😏😏
In the same way that Haters is not a “that one time at band camp” story, it’s not just another road trip story, either. There’s dialogue about race, parents being far from perfect, money and lack of money, sex, love, friendship, drugs, and really good sashimi. Every other page sees the characters caught in are-you-for-real situations, but they’re just wacky enough to be completely plausible. Wes’s voice is so quick/observant that you’ll feel right there. I certainly felt right there when I got off at the wrong subway stop because I had my nose in this book. I’ve been reading reviews that say the target audience is teen boys, but I think this book has something for everyone. I really, really dug it.
Other observations that cannot be grouped into the above paragraphs:
The accuracy with which Wes describes other characters’ facial expressions is so artistically crude that it almost brought me to laughing tears
Other parts actually brought me to cry-tears
There is a peanut butter incident (+10000)
The Haters is very different from Me and Earl, but Jesse’s style is unchanging. Go forth and purchase.
Are you curious/excited/BOUNCING OFF THE WALLS about The Haters? Is his book tour coming to your town?!