Author: Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
Publication date: 9th October 2018
My rating: ★★☆☆☆
Goodreads rating: 4.05
Genre: YA, Contemporary
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.
Before beginning this review, I just want to reiterate that even though this book may not have been for me, this doesn’t mean you won’t absolutely love it. The parts of the book I found problematic, you may think aren’t. This review is merely my opinion and I’m not going to bash the book in any way, but provide some constructive feedback on it.
I’m aware that many people absolutely love the musical, but this review is based on the book. While I was disappointed with the book as a whole, from the snippets of the musical I’ve seen and the songs I’ve heard, I think the story is meant to be received in musical form and will probably be depicted better this way. I’m seeing the show in November with an open mind and am looking forward to seeing the story performed on stage.
If you’ve got a differing opinion to mine then by all means please leave them in the comments below, I’d love to discuss them with you, but please can we keep the comments positive as we are all entitled to our own opinions on books. Thank you. 😊
Overall opinion of the book:
Dear Evan Hansen was a book I’d been eagerly waiting to read and had heard nothing but amazing things about. The musical has been a big phenomenon and of course I wanted to pick up the book to read as I couldn’t travel to America to see the show. I was left quite disappointed with the book however, and felt that it was quite problematic in parts.
I think my main disappointment with the book was with the main character, Evan. When you’re reading a book that’s in a first person perspective, it’s so important to feel a connection with the character and more importantly, like them. If you don’t, then it does make the book quite difficult to enjoy, which is what I unfortunately found with Evan. I felt he was very self centred throughout and also naive. He seemed to act as though he was the only person to experience what he was going through in regards to anxiety. As someone that experiences anxiety, I felt this was quite a naive way of thinking and I wasn’t keen on how he treated and talked about his mother, especially when he gaslights her into thinking he’s not lying about his friendship with Connor. While I understand his character doesn’t depict what it’s like to have anxiety as a whole, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by how it was portrayed a lot of the time. There were points in the book where the authors nail what a person with anxiety experiences very well, but as a whole I think anxiety could have been portrayed in a more sensitive manner.
There was one part in the book I found a little contradictory. Evan talks about his loneliness and how he wants to make friends, yet he sits on a lunch table with other people of “a lower social standing” and refuses to talk to them. He also refuses to ask them to sign his cast for fear of being associated with them. I understand in a school situation many people crave popularity, but if you’re lonely and want to make friends, does it matter? The way in which he overthinks so many situations is very realistic and completely relatable, but his loneliness could have been relieved so much quicker if he was willing to open up to these people, easier said than done though, I know.
In regards to the plot, I can understand what the authors are trying to do, but I felt that it was sensationalising suicide in a sense. I know this wasn’t Evan’s initial intentions and it accidentally happened, but it didn’t need to escalate in the way it did. I know there wouldn’t have been a story if it was resolved straight away, but I wasn’t comfortable with how his lie snowballed. I’m sure many people would enjoy the plot and be interested in finding out how Evan was going to get himself out of the situation, but it just made for an awkward read for me – particularly the parts where Evan is interacting with Connor’s family. It all went a bit too far for me and I didn’t like the thought of someone’s death being used to further someone’s place in society, intentional or not. I was also a little uncomfortable reading Evan’s lies to Connor’s parents. I think my main issue was with the foundations of everything good that happens in regards to helping those with their mental health is being based on a lie, it just doesn’t sit right with me.
What was interesting about Dear Evan Hansen was the other teenager’s reactions to Connor’s death. It certainly reflected what today’s society is like. While he was alive no one seemed bothered about Connor and his feelings, but as soon as he was gone people were writing lovely things about him on Social Media and sharing stories with each other. It reflects how important it is to check in with family and friends to ask them how they’re doing and whether or not they’re struggling. It’s all too often we see a similar situation in our own lives or on Social Media.
There were a handful of comments made in the book that were only brief but were quite problematic in my opinion. At one point in the book (p. 45) Evan says, “a few kids of a certain body type watch me with envy”, are we really fat shaming in a book? I didn’t really think this comment was necessary or needed. It hints at the fact that people who are plus sized aren’t happy with their bodies and are jealous of thin people when this just isn’t true. There’s enough fat shaming portrayed in the media, without it being reflected in a YA book to impressionable teenagers. I know this is only one line in a whole book, but it wasn’t needed. At the beginning of the book there’s also a part where Evan mentions that there’ll be new gender identities and sexualities when he goes back to school. This comment just feels distasteful and is almost emphasising that those who don’t comply with “normal” gender stereotypes or well known sexualities aren’t valid? I’m not sure if this is me just reading too much into things here, but thats what it feels the authors are hinting at.
Though I didn’t enjoy the majority of Dear Evan Hansen, the last third of the book redeemed it for me and I did enjoy the ending. I didn’t realise that Connor, the boy who commits suicide, also has chapters within the book. These chapters were my favourite parts of the book, and if there was a book based on Connor and his experiences alone, it probably would have got a much higher rating from me. Connor’s character really stayed with me and I sympathised with his struggles with mental health. He was such an interesting and intricate character, the polar opposite to Evan, not to mention quite comedic in parts. I throughly enjoyed getting an insight into his personal life and feelings.
Connor’s experiences with mental health were written far more organically than Evan’s and felt far more raw and realistic in my opinion. It was interesting to see how his life mirrors Evan’s in the sense that they both just wanted to be noticed. It was also interesting to find out Connor’s thoughts and reactions to Evan. The ending was good and I liked that it left many characters with a sense of peace, although I think it could have been tougher on Evan for his actions.
There was gay and bi rep in Dear Evan Hansen and it was interesting how it depicted different kind of friendships and emphasises that some friendships can be toxic. Overall I didn’t hate this book, I just had high hopes for it and was left disappointed. Evan wasn’t a redeeming character for me, I struggled to empathise with him and couldn’t justify his actions, which made it difficult to fully enjoy the book. When looking at the musical, it seems to be far more emotive and engaging. It’s a shame this didn’t reflect through the book.
As I mentioned in the disclaimer, just because this wasn’t the book for me, that doesn’t mean you won’t love it. I struggled to connect with the main character Evan, which in turn affected my overall opinion of the book. Even so, I absolutely loved Connor’s chapters and wanted to learn more about him. The ending was definitely strong and did make up for the parts of the book I didn’t enjoy as much.
It’s a shame when you read a book you’re really looking forward to and it doesn’t quite meet up to your expectations, but it can’t be helped. I hope I enjoy the show in November, after listening to the soundtrack though I think I will, the story seems to be portrayed in a better way on stage. Sometimes when reading a book adapted from the stage it’s difficult to add everything into it. I felt the authors could have made the book more emotive and Evan a more engaging and likeable character like he seems in the musical. I longed for the emotions that are in the song You Will Be Found to be in the book too.
If you would like to purchase a copy of this book, you can do so here: