TW: mention of suicide
*This book was written by Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul.
Dear Evan Hansen,
Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why...
To help with 17-year-old Evan Hansen’s social anxiety, his therapist suggests he writes letters to himself; mini pep-talks to help him feel more confident and in control. Of course, these letters are never meant to be seen by anyone else. One letter is taken by Connor Murphy, social outcast and bully, and it’s found by his family when he commits suicide – they believe that Evan was Connor’s confidant. Grasping on to any glimpse into their son’s secretive life, the Murphy’s feel like Evan is their only connection to Connor, a way for them to hold on to him.
Evan feels like he has no choice but to lie, and enlists friend Jared to write fake emails between the duo to prove that they were secret pals. All of a sudden, Evan is pulled into the spotlight – he’s no longer invisible in the corridors or classrooms. Soon, Evan won’t be able to keep up with the web of lies, and will have to face the uncomfortable truth, but the world is seeing him in a way they hadn’t before. He must ask himself what’s more important: being honest or giving a grieving family something they never had.
First and foremost, I have to mention that this books contains suicide and self-harm mentions fairly frequently in the book. I personally think that you have to be in a good place mentally to read this book, because it’s immersive nature may be too much for some. I’ll discuss this later on in my blog post.
When this book first came out, in 2018, I was interested to find out who the book was aimed at. There are plenty of musicals based on books (think Les Mis, Oliver Twist and The Phantom of The Opera) but I couldn’t find any books based off musicals. That being said, I can’t think of a musical out that fits as well into the YA genre (apart from those based in high schools like Mean Girls and Heathers) as Dear Evan Hansen, so seeing it turned into novel form makes sense. I’m quite into musicals, and while I’m pretty familiar with Dear Evan Hansen, it’s not my favourite – the songs are the most important part of a musical for me, and there are some good tunes, but they’re not really to my taste.
So, bearing that in mind, I knew the songs and the plot of Dear Evan Hansen before I dived into the book. There’s quite a lot of dialogue that is lifted straight out of the musical. Musicals are very quotable, and many fans will know the script of the show inside out, so the book was predictable in the way that I often knew which words or scene were coming next. This may be a good thing or a bad thing for you, I don’t know, but it meant that I flicked through some pages quickly because I knew what was about to godown. We do, however, get an insight into Evan’s mind that we don’t fully get in the show (although I think that the show does an excellent job of showing Evan’s feelings through song), which I think is the highlight of the book. However, Evan, at times, feels a little flat, with no hobbies or interests apart from trees. Emmich’s writing style sucks us into the mind of Evan though, through his moments of panic, anxiety and embarrassment, and this helps us to empathise a little with Evan, giving us the why behind his morally dubious actions.
The use of Connor’s suicide doesn’t sit well with me. I feel like it was used as a vehicle for other themes to be explored in the play, when it should have been given more space. However, Connor does have some mini-chapters from his point of view, which gives him more of a voice compared to the musical. As I mentioned earlier, being pulled into Evan’s head combined with the subject matter means that this book might not be for you, and it’s important to really bear that in mind.
If you’re looking for something in the Musical Theatre genre with a main character with a mental illness, may I suggest Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix? It has excellent reviews, and I think it’s very cleverly done.
Overall, this is a thoroughly immersive read that will particularly appeal to fans who have listened to the soundtrack but who have not watched the musical. If you’re looking for a book that tackles the stigma of mental illness and promotes discussion surrounding mental health, then this may not be the book for you. Nevertheless, the writing style allows the reader to see inside the mind of the protagonist.
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