This post of Dear Evan Hansen by authors Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul has been adapted from two previous posts. First is the spoiler free review followed by the spoiler full review and summary.
Spoiler Free Review
Dear Evan Hanson is a novelization of the Broadway musical of the same name. It’s written by the same creative team as the musical so it is sure to be accurate if not a little phoned in.
I’ve never read a novelization of a musical before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll read another one. I got the story pretty right based on the soundtrack alone and I think only a few finer details were filled in from the book.
The soundtrack for the musical is so well scored you pretty much get the whole play in the songs. For every beat of the book I knew what was coming. I have no idea how this book would read if I hadn’t heard the soundtrack first. If you read it without knowledge of the play please let me know in the comments.
Evan Hansen is a painfully shy teenager filled with anxiety that causes him difficulty just getting out of bed every day. His anxiety becomes heightened when he accidentally gets involved with Connor, another teenage boy, who then commits suicide.
Evan learns many lessons along the way and the reader gets a glimpse into what being mentally ill as a teenager is like. It hits a lot of the talking points without ever being too edgy or graphic.
Dear Evan Hansen is a great introduction to this new(ish) YA genre. Books about hard to deal with subjects like suicide were popularized with 13 Reasons Why. But let me tell you right now, Dear Evan Hansen is far more likely to make you feel warm inside and far less likely to make you want to ugly cry.
Side note, 13 Reasons Why has been transformed by Netflix into an unbearable abomination. It’s an exercise in torture to see what an audience will put up with before finally cancelling their subscriptions. It took a sad story and made it a social experiment.
There’s a reason Evan Hanson started as a musical. It stays light despite the heavy subject matter. It’s approachable and has as happy an ending as you can expect from a book of this nature. You must remember, the musical came first. It was written for singalongs not for shock value.
That is refreshing once in a while though. We need literature that covers tough subjects that families can feel comfortable reading together. Dear Evan Hansen is perfect for that.
Start a discussion with a family book club! Talk to each other about your feelings. Be honest about your anxieties. Seek professional help if you need to. And maybe just sing together once in a while.
Dear Evan Hansen Summary
Dear Evan Hansen is a Broadway musical. This being 2020 I have no idea when I’ll be able to see a musical again so I decided to read this novelization while I wait. I’ve never read a novelization of a musical before, it was okay.
Note: updating this in 2022 I have since seen the movie adaptation of the musical. It’s pretty good. The biggest problem, of course, being they had the original star of the play portray Evan and he is far older than a high schooler now. If you can get past that I recommend watching it.
I love musicals. I love the music in this musical. The book doesn’t have any music, and that’s lame but expected. The book does however fill in all the details of what happens in between the songs.
Evan Hansen is a painfully shy teenage boy plagued with crippling anxiety. His therapist recommends that he writes letters to himself. “Dear Evan Hansen, today’s gonna be a good day and here’s why…”
Super lame but couldn’t hurt to try right?
He’s attending the first day of school with a cast on his arm. He broke it working his summer internship as a forest ranger apprentice. His goal given to him by his mother is to find a new friend to sign his cast.
Evan fails pretty hard at this simple task. He doesn’t even approach anybody about signing the cast. But he does get it signed by the end of the day.
He has a confrontation with a notorious boy from school. Connor Murphy, brother of Zoe Murphy, Evan’s crush. Connor is notorious as a pothead and a generally antagonistic loner.
At the end of this confrontation Connor sarcastically signs Evan’s cast, in huge letters. Later that afternoon Evan is writing his therapy assignment to himself and prints it off in the library. Connor finds it and is going to bring it to him when he notices that it mentions his sister Zoe.
Thinking that Evan is mocking him he pockets the letter and storms off. Evan proceeds to lose his mind over how embarrassing this will be.
The next day Evan keeps waiting for the bomb to drop. Keeps waiting to find out that Connor leaked the letter to everyone in school. He then gets called to the principal’s office where Connor’s parents are waiting for him.
Very confused, Evan approaches the Murpheys. They tell him that Connor has committed suicide and they found the note that he wrote to Evan. The one headed “Dear Evan Hansen.”
In stupefied horror Evan does not deny that the letter was written by Connor. Additionally, the Murpheys are confirmed in their theory that Evan was Connor’s only friend when they see the huge CONNOR signature on Evan’s cast.
This is basically the premise to a dark sitcom. Throughout the whole book Evan continues to dig himself deeper and deeper into a hole just because he is incapable of confrontation.
Evan feels extremely guilty and attends Connor’s wake only to discover no other students show up. He then goes to the Murphey household for dinner to find that Zoe is rightfully suspicious of his relationship with her brother.
In order to keep up the ruse Evan needs some evidence of his friendship with Connor. He grabs his only friend, a jerk who doesn’t even like him, Jared. For a price, Jared agrees to help Evan fabricate some emails.
As everything progresses Evan finds himself getting closer to Zoe. Until he very inappropriately tries to kiss her on her deceased brother’s bed.
Students at the school are starting to forget about Connor and the whole incident so Evan, Jared, and an overachiever named Alana come up with the concept for The Connor Project. A way to memorialize him.
Throughout everything Connor himself appears as a kind of ghost to observe what is happening in the wake of his death. This is a device that I feel would work much better on stage than in a book. On stage it isn’t weird to have that actor observe the goings on, in a book, just use flashbacks and omniscient narration instead.
But it is through one of these ghost memories that we learn that Connor was at least somewhat gay and had his heart broken by a boy named Miguel.
Connor observes Evan giving an incredibly awkward speech in which he states they were best friends. Connor knows this isn’t true but is a ghost and can’t do anything about it.
Zoe and Evan continue to bond despite his unbelievably dumb move to kiss her before. She confides her grief and feelings in him.
Eventually they begin dating and she invites Evan over to dinner. He finds that she’s also invited his mom to surprise them. Zoe’s parents offer Connor’s college fund to Evan as a thank you. Evan’s mom is incredibly offended and turns them down.
Evan grows further away from his struggling, working mother and closer to the Murphey family as a surrogate. He fabricates a suicide note to give them further closure. Alana gets a hold of it and posts it online.
This has the opposite of the intended effect. The mob mentality of the internet decides that Connor’s family must be to blame for his death and begin sending them threats.
The stress of all of this causes Evan to finally admit the truth. He faked it all.
He leaves the Murphey home in a fugue state. He waits for days or weeks for them to crash everything down on him but they never do.
Everything got so far and so out of control that everyone would be harmed by the truth coming out. The Murpheys continue the lie for Evan.
In the end Evan bears enough guilt for a dozen lifetimes until Miguel finds him and offers a little closure. Filling in some gaps of how Connor must have felt in his final days.
Evan and Zoe obviously break up and do not see each other romantically ever again. Although they do find some forgiveness in a year or so.
Connor finds his way to the afterlife to a hopefully happier place.
Overall I enjoyed Dear Evan Hansen but I imagine the musical has more force behind it. The novelization hits all the points but doesn’t pack a punch.
If you are looking for a YA book that discusses mental health issues, this one would be a good place to start. Even with the dark themes of suicide and severe anxiety the book is light and approachable. It’s a far more easy going alternative to say 13 Reasons Why. I can definitely recommend it for teens and parents.
I’m glad I now know the finer points of the story though and it has enriched my listening experience of the soundtrack.
3/5 trees 🌳🌳🌳
If you like Dear Evan Hanen you might also like Everything, Everything.
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Buy the book here: Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel
Buy the soundtrack here: Dear Evan Hansen (Original Broadway Cast Recording)