{Review} DEAR EVAN HANSEN by Val Emmich

O P E N I N G   H O O K:

    Better to burn out, right, than to fade away? Kurt Cobain said that in his letter. I watched a video about all the famous ones. Ernest Hemingway. Robin Williams. Virginia Woolf. Hunter S. Thompson. Sylvia Plath. David Foster Wallace. Van Gogh. I'm not comparing myself -- trust me. Those people actually made an impact. I did nothing. I couldn't even write a note.    
    Burning is the right way to paint it. You feel yourself gettting so hot, day after day. Hotter and hotter. It gets to be too much. Even for stars. At some point they fizzle out or explode. Cease to be. But if you're looking up at hte sky. you don't see it that way. You think all those stars are still there. Some aren't. Some are already gone. Long gone. I guess, now, so am I.
    My name. That was the last thing I wrote. On another kid's cast. Not quite a goodbye note. But hey, I made my little mark. On a broken limb. Seems about right. Poetic if you think about it. And thinking is just about all I can do now.
(Page 1, US hardcover edition)

“Maybe, someday, some other kid is going to be standing here, staring out at the trees, feeling alone, wondering if maybe the world might look different from all the way up there. Better. Maybe he’ll start climbing, one branch at a time, and he’ll keep going, even when it seems like he can’t find another foothold. Even when it feels hopeless. Like everything is telling him to let go. Maybe this time he won’t let go. This time he’ll hold on. He’ll keep going.” 

The novelization of the hit musical Dear Evan Hansen is out now by Val Emmich from Poppy / Little, Brown and is a MUST for any fan of the show. It doesn't simply re-hash the moments of the musical. It doesn't just take Steven Levenson's book and the lyrics of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and put them in writing. It expands and evolves the world fans already know and love.

For example, did you know that Evan is Evan Hansen's middle name? I didn't. I went back and re-read the script (Published by Theatre Commincations Group, out now) to see if I had somehow missed that and didn't see a mention. We find that out in the very first chapter, and I was already intrigued to see what else I could learn about this show I thought I knew so well. Evan is also really into documentaries, especially ones about loners and outcasts because he can relate. We also get a lot more story revolving around Connor Murphy that we never saw in the show and it really fleshed out his character. In fact, if you buy the Barnes and Noble Exclusive Edition, you'll be able to read "Connor’s list of ten favorite books as well as never-before-seen lists from all four of the DEAR EVAN HANSEN authors." I also love that we can see a few of Connor's books in this novel. I don't want to tell you about all the cool new additions, though, because I loved the discovery of finding them all and know you will as well.

Do you need to be a fan of the musical to read DEAR EVAN HANSEN? No, certainly not! Emmich recreates the story and doesn't assume readers already know it. There are plenty of new bits in there for people who know the show so they won't get bored, and plenty of development for readers new to the story. Evan's story--Connor's story--are both important and should be accessible to teenagers who can't afford to go to Broadway or may not watch musicals. With a book, they can experience the story through a new medium. There are times when the lines from the musical are woven into the book, and they almost always work--there's only a couple of occurrences where the medium doesn't work as well. Mostly, however, it's cleverly woven in and just helps flesh out the story more fully for fans.

Evan Hansen has always been a loner. He doesn't have a lot of friends--in fact, the only person he can kind of call a friend is Jared Kleinman, a family friend who only hangs out with Evan to stay on his parents' good side. He can't even talk to the girl he has a crush on, Zoe Murphy, due to his severe social anxiety. His therapist makes him do a weekly letter to himself:

Dear Evan Hansen,
Today is going to be a GOOD DAY,
and here's WHY.

Evan, however, has been seriously slacking. How do you convince yourself today is going to be spectacular if it's just another ho-hum, ordinary day? Nevertheless, he does the assignment in the school library, where it is picked up by Connor Murphy. Connor frequently bullies Evan, and even pushed him down earlier that day at school. First, Connor writes his name on Evan's cast in huge letters, then reads Evan's private letter, sees a comment about his sister (Evan's crush, Zoe) and thinks Evan is making fun of him. He takes the letter and leaves, and this small interaction between the boys becomes the catalyst for everything to change.

Connor Murphy is not a happy soul, which the novel explores more deeply than the musical did. His two encounters with Evan that day are minor, but a tipping point for him. When something happens later that evening, he can't take it anymore and commits suicide. His parents find Evan's therapy letter on him and assume it is a suicide note. They bring it to Evan, and though he tells them Connor didn't write the letter, they don't believe him when they see their son's name on his cast. They decide the boys were best friends, and Evan wants to help them heal, so he lets them believe this.

Lies, of course, always have a way of spinning and growing, and before he knows it, Evan is at the center of The Connor Project and goes viral. His life has changed completely and he's finally learning to deal with his anxiety, but everything he has is built on a lie...and what happens if everything comes toppling down?

DEAR EVAN HANSEN deals with a lot of hard topics that teens face every day. Suicide is more rampant than ever, as teen bullying and the pressures of social media get more and more extreme. How do we deal? And if we're so focused on ourselves, how do we know it's how others see us? Getting into Connor's headspace through this novel deepens his character so much and shows readers that there is more than one way to see things. Evan and Connor have completely different views of the same interactions. Both respond and reflect in ways that fuel their own issues along. We never have a fully clear picture, even through our first-person experiences. It's a powerful thought, and one teens need to hear.

Evan's journey is also important as he deals with his social anxiety and learns how to adapt in a world where he has always been invisible. He abhors speaking in public--in the musical, one of the stand-out moments is when he curls into a ball on stage when he has to give a speech. I was lucky enough to see the show while Ben Platt was still in it and the way he curled up and sweated and practically puked on stage due to his anxiety was one of the most emotional acting scenes I've seen in recent years. It really felt like Evan and the audience absolutely understood his insecurities and wanted to help him. He manages to recover enough to get through his speech, and while he thinks the way he freaked out will make him even more of a laughingstock, the opposite happens. Both the book and the musical focus on what it means to go viral in today's world and the implications it may have on us. For Evan, who has always been invisible and overlooked, there are now people looking at him, interacting with him, even encouraging him. If you can find one person to believe in you, to hold you up, to be there for you, that one encounter can take you off a horrible path and put you instead onto a positive one that can change your life for the better.

There are so many great talking points in DEAR EVAN HANSEN and the fact that it is now a novel means that it can be taught in schools and brought up in book clubs, and discussed in more detail with teens across the world. While fans of the musical will embrace the new elements and the fact that we can get into everyone's head a little more deeply and learn some new tidbits omitted from the show itself, it will live on for new readers and new fans as well, and possibly even save lives.



Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance:  PG ( Kissing )
Language: PG13 ( Language, including the F bomb and sexual innuendo/anatomical words such as vagina, dick, etc. used as insults in guy banter. )
Violence: --
Other:  PG ( Bullying, suicide )

C O V E R   D E S I G N:

I like that they kept the blue and white that has become so iconic for the musical! I know the blue and white shirt Evan wears was never supposed to become so iconic, but it has. This cover matches the show's aesthetic well and fits right in!

Plus, a tree on the cover! It works, it just works.

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Val Emmich
with Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul
Release Date: October 9, 2018
Publisher: Poppy / Little, Brown
Received: For Review
{BEA Copy at Signing Event; Publisher Copy in Mail; Purchased Copy at Signing Event}

From the show's creators comes the groundbreaking novel inspired by the Broadway smash hit Dear Evan Hansen.

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today's going to be an amazing day and here's why...

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family's grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn't invisible anymore--even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy's parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he's doing can't be right, but if he's helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He's confident. He's a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.