Dear Evan Hansen: Review
It would not be irrational to consider the issues that arise when writing a book based on a story that has already been told, especially one that is already known, loved, and appreciated. There comes a certain expectation that might be too high to reach, and a pressure to have each scene relayed into the pages. This is what Val Emmich was faced with when he sat down to write Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel.
For those who do not know, Dear Evan Hansen began as a musical. With a talented cast and an extraordinary soundtrack, the musical became extremely successful and trended among social media platforms. While writing a book after the musical might come with challenges, it also opened up the opportunity for a further depth into the characters’ lives that a musical could not portray.
The book details the story of Evan Hansen, a boy with severe social anxiety, whose life collides unexpectedly with Connor Murphy’s, a misunderstood boy with a bad reputation who commits suicide senior year of high school. This happens when Connor finds a letter Evan wrote to himself (per request of his therapist) that mentions his sister, Zoe, and Evan’s romantic obsession. Connor takes the letter, thinking Evan wrote it purposely to offend him, and it was later found in Connor’s pocket after he passed. Connor’s parents evidently thought this was Connor’s suicide note written to Evan, and Evan’s anxiety prevented him from revealing the identity of the letter’s author. From there, the story unfolds.
This coming-of-age novel could be misinterpreted as a traditional Unpopular Boy Becomes Popular story, but both background knowledge of the musical and Emmich’s superb writing prevents this. The themes of resilience, family, and friendship are prevalent through the entire book.
With this said, the effects of writing a book based on a musical comes with its own problems. At times, the book seemed to match the musical a little too perfectly, making it seem as though they copy-and-pasted the script and wrote in just a bit of monologue and fluff in between. In addition, the writing seemed to lack the powerful impact the music had brought–– Evan and his mother’s relationship at the end of the book seemed to falter in comparison to the scene in the musical: “So Big / So Small.” I found myself searching for the same depth in the writing that had been found in the music.
Even so, there was also a silver-lining in the story that made in worthwhile: Connor’s limited but impactful perspective in the story. In the few chapters where Evan was not narrating, Connor was. In this point of view, we saw something that we never got from the musical: Connor’s perspective after death. We witnessed Connor’s thoughts after dying and his confusion over Evan’s title as “best friend.” The reader received secrets about Connor and his identity that the musical never revealed–– including a real best friend that Connor secretly had, someone who was never mentioned in the musical, but came into play in the book.
Because of these differences, Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel was worth the read. Evan’s lovable personality and his relatability among nearly anyone of all ages created the perfect protagonist, and the novel’s recurrent theme can be appreciated by everyone: You will never be alone.
Click here to listen to my Dear Evan Hansen playlist as you read!