Review: The Haters by Jesse Andrews

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Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release date: April 5, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 325
RRP: $19.99 AUD
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Wes and Corey are convinced nothing cool can come of their lame summer at jazz camp, when along comes Ash – all blonde hair and brash words – and cracks their world wide open. Finally, something they can’t seem to hate. When Ash convinces them that a great musician is made on the road, the three friends flee camp and begin an epic, hilarious road trip: The Haters 2016 Summer of Hate Tour.

Amid sneaking into seedy bars, evading their parents and the police, and spending every minute together in a makeshift tour bus, romance blossoms and bursts, and hygiene takes a back seat. Wes begins to realise the limitations of hating everything: it keeps you at a convenient distance from something, or someone, you just might love.

When you can find something to hate about every band, how do you make a sound you love?

MY THOUGHTS

2 stars

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of The Haters. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I think a certain population of people will really love The Haters. I just didn’t happen to fall into that group. I couldn’t really connect with the characters or the humour in the book, and it all became a little bit flat and boring. Having said that, I absolutely hated Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and The Haters was a much better reading experience for me.

This book is about Wes, Corey and Ash who meet at a two-week jazz camp. None of them are actually into jazz and find the camp environment to be a bit stifling. Ash decides that the only way that they can be real musicians and play the music that they want to play is to go on a tour around the country. They have absolutely no plan and are absolutely terrible together as a band. Together, they travel around the country looking for new experiences and opportunities to show off their music. Now, this sounded like an amazing idea for a road trip book. It had the potential to be crazy, funny and exciting, but I found it to be kind of plotless. Almost nothing happens in this book! There’s lots of descriptions of travelling and of music but they hardly played any music at all. I felt like it was just pages and pages of dropping names of bands and talking about how great they were together and not actually that much music playing. I was baffled by the lack of practice and rehearsal. I mean, sure, let’s just go on tour and not practise together at all.

What we did get in this book were pages and pages of descriptions and jokes. Everything was described with unnecessary detail, including a pretty disturbing description of ‘dick harming’. I just felt like the book dragged on forever and at the end of it, I was left with nothing but a deep knowledge of how bad their car smelt and the names of a million bands that I’ve never heard of before. I didn’t understand a lot of the music references, and I’m sure that people who actually know about the things that are mentioned will love the book. But it just wasn’t for me and it came across as pretentious. I also couldn’t really connect with the humour and didn’t find the book to be that funny. People who are able to connect with the humour will absolutely love this novel because the jokes just run on for pages and pages. For those who don’t, there’s just not much to latch on to and it can be a pretty long journey to the end of the book… Having said that, I did find some parts to be funny but those were few and far between. There were lots and lots of dick jokes that I honestly just don’t find amusing at all.

The characters in this book reminded me a lot of the trio in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, with the two male best friends and the addition of a female friend. I did enjoy Wes, our main character, for the most part. Apart from all the dick jokes and him just acting like a ‘dude’, he wasn’t a bad character to read from. I enjoyed all of his insecurities and how he kept the group together, but he also frustrated me at times with some of his actions. The character that I had a huge problem with was Ash. She came across as extremely selfish and inconsiderate, and there wasn’t a single point in the book where I thought she had Wes and Corey’s best interests at heart.

The Haters was quite an easy book to read and was relatively fast-paced, apart from the long jokes and descriptions that I couldn’t care less about. I thought the formatting of the book was a bit odd though. The book switches constantly between normal prose and a script format. I didn’t really understand why the author chose to do this. It came across to me as lazy writing – like the author couldn’t be bothered to write proper sentences with proper punctuation anymore, and decided to just have dialogue in the format of a script. I understood the use of the script in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl since that book was about film-making, but there was really no reason to do it in this novel at all.

Overall, I wasn’t overly impressed with The Haters. It was definitely a step up from Me and Earl and the Dying Girl for me, but there were too many elements that I either didn’t understand or didn’t like to convince me to pick up anything else by Jesse Andrews in the future.

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Review: The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith

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Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release date: March 22, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 384
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Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.

MY THOUGHTS

2 stars

This book was a missed opportunity. Ostensibly, this book explores rape and the effects of rape or sexual assault on victims, but what I read was a four year journey of self-destruction and recklessness on the part of the main character. For me, it was 300+ pages of not much substance.

At the beginning of the novel, 14-year-old Eden is raped by her older brother’s best friend. She doesn’t tell anybody what happened to her and holds the secret inside of her throughout high school. This book follows her journey from freshman year to senior year. Which was the first problem that I had with it. Because the book spans such a long amount of time, nothing is really explored in detail. There were lots of time skips and things just seemed to happen out of the blue. One day she’s chugging along nicely at school and the next she’s being bullied and called a whore. One day she’s calling her parents ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ and the next she’s calling them by their first names (which was really confusing when it first happened because I thought they were new characters that randomly appeared). I would have preferred to see the catalysts for these events, rather than a general overview of her high school life. The story just lacked depth and I felt really disconnected from everything that was happening. I also didn’t think that the novel was very well-resolved at all. I just wanted a lot more from the plot.

Eden is probably my least favourite main character I’ve ever read about. She was so incredibly dislikeable and just… nasty. Initially, she was an okay character. I enjoyed that she wasn’t the typical popular girl who became reclusive after going through a traumatic experience. She was the nerdy girl who blended in with everybody around her, and I appreciated the message that these things can happen to anybody. However, Eden quickly became very frustrating and dislikeable. She reinvents herself to disconnect from the naive and innocent person who went through that traumatic experience. But I was extremely frustrated by the fact that she thought that the person she wanted to be and the person she “could stand to be” was somebody who smokes multiple cigarettes a day. She ditches her friend because she doesn’t want to be seen with someone uncool, and pretty much just acted like a bitch to everybody around her. She was selfish and constantly lied to everyone. She was just a horrible person who used the people around her without a thought for their feelings.

I just didn’t think that this book delivered very good messages to young readers. I didn’t approve of any of the things that Eden did in this book. She engages in a lot of drinking, smoking and pretty much has sex with every guy who looks at her (she mentioned that she’s been with 100 guys). She  throws tantrums and snaps at everyone around her, especially her parents, who seem to always be either absent or extremely passive. While I can appreciate that this is a depiction of one fictional character’s experience with rape, and the confusion and thoughts that come with having gone through such an experience, I don’t think this book presents a good message for readers who might have gone through a similar experience. Younger readers might think that it’s acceptable to behave in the same reckless and irresponsible way that Eden behaves, or that people aren’t victims of rape if they don’t act in such a way. I thought that the whole issue was handled terribly and I had no idea what the message of the book was besides the fact that you should probably report these things if they happen to you. Oh, and that it’s okay to be extremely rude and disrespectful to your parents and everybody around you because you’ve been through a tough time.

My opinion seems to be an unpopular one since most people on Goodreads have rated this 5 stars and loved it. But for me, this was a total let down. It hardly explored the issues that I thought needed to be addressed and ultimately, it was just a 300 page book about a dislikeable girl who engaged in reckless and undesirable behaviour until she lost all of her friends and hit rock bottom. If you’re looking for a book about rape or sexual assault, I wouldn’t recommend this one at all.

Review: Risk by Fleur Ferris

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Publisher: Random House Australia
Release date: June 30, 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN13: 9780857986474
Pages: 279
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Taylor and Sierra have been best friends for their whole lives. But Taylor’s fed up. Why does Sierra always get what – and who – she wants? From kissing Taylor’s crush to stealing the guy they both met online for herself, Sierra doesn’t seem to notice when she hurts her friends.

So when Sierra says Jacob Jones is the one and asks her friends to cover for her while she goes to meet him for the first time, Taylor rolls her eyes.

But Sierra doesn’t come back when she said she would.

One day. Two days. Three . . .

What if Taylor’s worrying for nothing? What if Sierra’s just being Sierra, forgetting about everyone else to spend time with her new guy?

When Taylor finally tells Sierra’s mum that her daughter is missing, Taylor and her friends are thrown into a dark world they never even knew existed.

Can Taylor find Sierra’s abductor in time?
Or should she be looking for a killer?

MY THOUGHTS

2 stars

Risk is the August pick for #bookclubaus, so I decided to pick it up so that I could join the twitter chat, which is taking place August 28 (tonight!) at 7:30pm AEST.

This is a novel that deals with a very important topic in society today, which is online safety. It raises awareness about the dangers of meeting people online because they may not be who you think they are. It also deals with grief and survivor’s guilt. I think online safety is definitely a topic or issue that teens should be made aware of, and I appreciate that the author tried to target this book to a younger audience who might be susceptible to the charms of online predators. However, I had quite a few issues with the book.

I had a very hard time connecting with the characters from the very first page. The characters are 15 year olds, but they felt very juvenile and immature in their behaviour and the way they spoke. They seemed to be falling in love with everyone they saw, and I didn’t enjoy that at all. Taylor goes from being completely uninterested in the guy they met online to imagining herself married to him within the span of just a couple of pages. It irked me because I think even 15 year olds have more sense than that. A lot of teenage drama did get left behind after Sierra went missing and the book turned more serious, but we still see glimpses of it throughout the book. Most of the side characters were underdeveloped. I wanted to know about their experiences and feelings on the situation, but I felt like their main role in the novel was to create conflict in Taylor’s life.

I was not a fan of Taylor or Sierra. Sierra was portrayed as someone who was very unlikeable, even to her friends, so it was a little bit difficult for me to even care about what happened to her. I liked Taylor a little bit more than Sierra, but her thoughts and feelings fluctuated a lot and it was just hard to be in her head. She seemed to disregard the feelings of those around her and justified all of her actions and decisions by saying that Sierra would have loved it/thought it was glamorous, or that Sierra would want her to be happy. I thought Taylor was a very frustrating protagonist and I didn’t feel like her character went through very much development. She compares herself to Sierra throughout the whole book and by the end of it, I wasn’t really sure how she had grown as a person.

I was also not very impressed with the plot. I had gone into the book knowing that it wasn’t going to be a thriller but the story fell short for me in terms of where it went. Most of it was very predictable and it didn’t feel like a very original story. I also didn’t like the romance that was in the book. I thought it was unnecessary and I would have much preferred it if the book had focused on friendship and supporting each other through grief.

The style of writing was also a little bit of an issue for me. The writing felt very basic and was composed of too many short sentences. I felt like it was too direct. Instead of discovering for myself what was happening, I was just being told the main messages of the book and what Taylor was thinking and feeling. I’m not opposed to simple writing if it’s used effectively, but I thought the writing in Risk was too assertive and was almost telling me what I should be thinking and feeling. I think it just goes back to the “show, don’t tell” rule that we learn in school.

I’m glad that this book is out there and I do think that teenagers should read it to learn more about internet safety because what happened to Sierra in the book could happen to anyone. But while I did like the message in this book and the awareness it raises, I thought it was a little bit of a missed opportunity.