You Will Never Be Alone

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.

Rating: B-

Click here to listen to my Dear Evan Hansen playlist as you read!

Six Teenagers, One Heist

Six of Crows: Review

A consistent trend in Young Adult fiction is the theme of teenage survival: kids mastering the technique of living independently and the occasional fight for their lives. It has been prevalent in many popular YA books over the past few years– The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Legend by Marie Lu, The Maze Runner by James Dashner– and this theme is continued in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, except this time there is a magical realism twist.

The story is told by alternating perspectives, primarily by the main six characters of the book. Set in the fictional city of Ketterdam, Kerch, the story delves into the lives of a ragtag crew of teenagers who have all ended up in the Dregs– a gang that performs high-risk, deadly heists or missions for monetary gain, and evidently labeling them all as criminals. To thicken the plot, there are humans born with extraordinary capabilities called Grisha. They are widely known, but are hunted down by drüskelle, soldiers from the country of Fjerda who believe they are less than human.

The story begins when six teenagers set out to perform a mission for the Dregs’ leader, Kaz Brekker, which involves breaking into a seemingly unbreakable prison, capturing one of their inmates, and making it out alive. (Much easier said than done.)

Within the first few chapters of the story, Bardugo has laid out so many characters, important terminology, and backstories that the reader must either have a superb memory or a piece of paper and a pen in their other hand while reading. Despite this, the uniqueness of the story and the fascination for the characters is enough to keep the reader going.

It is not often that a book makes you wonder how the author could have come up with such a complex and thorough universe that is so different from your own, but this is the feeling that arises when reading Six of Crows. Published with drawn maps in the first few pages, the story is based in a world where every country and language is different from our own. Yet, Bardugo did not miss a single detail in crafting this universe.

Creating meaningful characters seems to be Bardugo’s forte. The aforementioned Kaz Brekker is one of the antagonists, and his character goes deep beyond his cruel demeanor and his iconic, ever-present black gloves. It takes nearly the entire book to uncover the fullness of his character, bits and pieces of his past and the reasoning for his interesting quirks being revealed on the way. The others have just as well-developed characters, with unique parts that make them individual and recognizable even without the name being stated. It takes a skilled author to be able to create realistic characters that are also different from anyone else imaginable, and yet, Bardugo succeeded spectacularly.

The story is your classic YA action: dark backstories and dire situations endanger the characters throughout the entire book. In between these events, however, Bardugo sprinkles in humor and hidden crushes, deepening the characters and making them more than just surface actors in a tragedy. Each teenager has their own motivation, their own longing or need, even if it is unbeknownst to them. The tension this creates is only intensified by the adventures they partake in.

But despite all of the dangerous risks and near-death experiences, one concept always rises to the surface: there is family in friendship, and trust can sometimes be the only thing that keeps you alive.

Rating: A+

Click here to listen to my Six of Crows Spotify playlist as you read!

Six of Crows is the first of a duology. Crooked Kingdom is the next (and last) book in this series.

Dancing in Italy

Call Me By Your Name: Review

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman, published January 23, 2007, by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

This unexpected love letter takes readers on an usual yet beguiling journey through a summer in Italy, exploring the excitement of adolescence and the complicated experience of attraction. Written from the perspective of Elio Perlman, he reminisces upon one summer in 1983, where an unlikely romance spurs between him, seventeen years old, and a graduate student visiting as a summer guest.

Based in northern Italy where the Perlman family spends their summer, Elio encounters all of the traditional teenage experiences, and then Oliver: acerbic yet amiable, and the subject of Elio’s obsession. Conflicted between infatuation and enmity, Elio analyzes every aspect of Oliver’s character– from his charming demeanor to his infuriating choice of farewell: “Later!”

The story progresses as Elio’s fascination for Oliver slowly becomes reciprocated, and a slow but sure romance blossoms between the two while everyone around them remains oblivious. This relationship, however, despite its seriosity, does not prohibit them from pursuing strictly physical affairs with girls around their town. In fact, Elio builds a relationship with a girl named Marzia almost at the same time as his budding relationship with Oliver. It introduces the idea, without stating it blatantly, that sexuality is fluid and neither Elio or Oliver are confining themselves to one gender.

André Aciman, Goodreads

Composed through the artistic lens of André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name is a heartbreakingly beautiful masterpiece of a story, outlining the rarity of love and the importance of embracing it willingly and intentionally.

Aciman’s writing style consists of picturesque language and extensive personal reflection– most of Elio’s events are told through his thoughts instead of direct dialogue, something that allows for a much broader understanding of Elio’s character, but requires great faith in the reader to stay motivated to keep turning the pages. Another incredible feat of the author– to keep a reader interested in a relationship that has had unlikely odds since the beginning.

Aciman created two incredibly complex characters. Elio is driven by his passion– due to the book being of his perspective, his thoughts and reflection are the most of what we read. He becomes attached to a person incredibly fast, and this person takes over his mind. Oliver is a character filled with personality and charm– although he is harder to read, and his moods seem to fluctuate consistently throughout the novel. There are passages that are uncomfortable or strange due to how detailed Aciman writes Elio’s thoughts, but these brash, direct scenes are necessary in cultivating Elio and Oliver’s relationship.

Luca Guadagnino’s film adaptation of the book struck the hearts of many. An inventive, eloquent film with the two main characters portrayed by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, the movie is a close replica of the book, down to the smallest details. A beautiful and moving film, its flowery and baroque design captures the essence of the story phenomenally, although the book remains the best version of the story if one truly desires to understand it fully.

Call Me By Your Name is an incredible tribute to the LGBT+ community, providing a story of representation that is unique from any other book on the shelves. Sensual and striking, Call Me By Your Name is a story of longing, passion, and a celebration of love.

Rating: A

Click here to listen to my Call Me By Your Name Spotify playlist to listen as you read.