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A Book Review of “Dear Evan Hansen” by Val Emmich

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Rose is an enthusiastic writer and reader who publishes articles every Thursday. She enjoys all book genres, especially drama and fantasy.

“Dear Evan Hansen” by Val Emmich

“Dear Evan Hansen” by Val Emmich

What’s the Big Deal?

You’ve probably heard of the musical Dear Evan Hansen before. After premiering in Washington in 2015, the musical arrived on Broadway in 2016 starring actor Ben Platt as Evan. Since then, it’s won three Tonys, a Grammy, and more. The musical glowed in the eyes of critics and reached a level of acclaim that’s rarely seen on the harsh New York stage.

Centering around themes of hopelessness and then hopefulness, the show depicts the life of a teenage boy trapped in a lie and what he can do to get out of it—but more than that, it focuses on mental health and suicide prevention with an overall message that permeates the show: You are not alone. The bestselling book version of Dear Evan Hansen was released in 2018, and it continues to showcase the whirlwind of emotions that made Evan’s story what it is today.

Plot Summary

Evan Hansen is a boy battling himself. Even before he runs into the infamous, angry Connor Murphy, he’s dealing with fierce social anxiety and a brain that refuses to turn off. (Sound familiar, anyone?) Then, at school one day, he finds himself face to face with the misunderstood darkness that is Connor. After a poorly-timed joke given by his friend Jared, who gets out of the way in time, Connor shoves Evan to the ground with an onslaught of heated exclamations.

This interaction, though, is not the only one Connor and Evan have that day. Later, in the computer lab, Evan types up an assignment to his therapist in which he addresses himself: “Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be an amazing day and here’s why.” But it isn’t going to be an amazing day, because Connor picks up the letter from the printer. He notices that it mentions his sister, Zoe, who Evan has a crush on. He gets angry. Taking the letter with him, Connor sweeps from the room in a blur of anger and rage.

Evan notices that neither Zoe nor Connor are at school the next day—or the day after that or the day after that. Evan is a mess of nerves—what has Connor done with his letter? Is he destined to be the next subject of high school ridicule? Later, he’s called to the office by the principal. The Murphys’ parents are there, and Evan realizes with dread that they think their son wrote the letter.

It’s even more of a problem because that night, the night Connor took what wasn’t his, was also the night he took his own life. Connor’s parents think that Evan was Connor’s secret friend, closest confidante, and the one he spoke to that heinous night. This spells immeasurable trouble for Evan, who, despite trying to explain himself, can’t.

Soon enough, the misunderstanding becomes a huge snowballing lie. Evan only wants to help the Murphys, so he fabricates the story that they want to believe; he lets the tale take on a mind of its own and creates, with the assistance of Jared, fake emails between him and Connor to prove their friendship. Before he knows it, though, the lie spins out of control. It becomes too big—too much for Evan to bear. And when it eventually comes out, the truth hurts more than Evan could have ever imagined.

Quick Facts

  • Author: Val Emmich with Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • Pages: 358
  • Genre: YA fiction
  • Ratings: 4.3/5 Barnes & Noble, 4.7/5 Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Release date: October 9, 2018
  • Publisher: Poppy

To Read or Not to Read?

I recommend this book if:

  • You’re a fan of the Broadway musical—and if not, you should be!
  • You lean toward books involving mental illness like All The Bright Places or Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven, Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow, or A Danger to Herself and Others by Alissa Sheinmel
  • You’ve ever found yourself trapped in a lie
  • You had a significant or memorable experience in high school that you’d like to rediscover in a novel
  • You’ve ever been lost and needed to be found.

The me I am is not the me I was.

— Val Emmich, “Dear Evan Hansen”

Reviews

  • “This poignant coming-of-age tale thoughtfully portrays heavy topics including suicide, grief, and mental health issues while powerfully reminding teens that they are never alone. Told mostly from Evan's point of view plus a few key passages from Connor's perspective after his death, this heartbreaking and timely stage-to-page novelization shows how easily social media lets lies spiral out of control and facilitates inauthentic connections.” —Common Sense Media
  • “It may be impossible not to find pieces of yourself reflected in Evan's loneliness and yearning to be accepted... The book, of course, can’t offer the glamour and theatrics (or the music!) of Broadway, but it still captures the heartbreaking experience of searching for connection. Evan’s character may have been born for the stage, but his earnestness and relatability sing through the book’s pages.” —Becky Albertalli, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Val Emmich, the book’s author

Val Emmich, the book’s author

The Takeaway

I can’t say that I completely loved the novel adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen—it was difficult to read for me at times because it struck so many chords similar to my own life—but I can say that it’s a novel I think anyone who’s struggled with being a loner or with mental illness should read. The story can be sad at times, but overall, I think the inspiration and hope it gives to readers makes the heartache worth it.

Additionally, the book intersperses lyrics and quotes from the musical throughout, which I enjoy; the song “Requiem” is written in the novel as a song that Zoe writes on her guitar in her bedroom, adding a raw quality to it that the musical didn’t show.

The book also offers new information about Connor and Evan that isn’t in the musical, so you know that you’ll get something out of the book even if you’ve seen the show before. Like it or don’t, all I can say is that Evan Hansen’s story is one that everyone should know and one that I’ll carry with me for a long, long time. If you’re interested, you can buy the book here.