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Dear Evan Hansen

Review

Dear Evan Hansen

by Val Emmich, with Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul have teamed up with Val Emmich to adapt the Tony-award winning musical “Dear Evan Hansen” into a young adult novel. For those unfamiliar, the coming-of-age story follows Evan Hansen in his senior year of high school as he struggles with severe social anxiety and depression. At the advice of his counselor, Evan begins to write letters to himself as a form of therapy. This quickly goes awry when one of his letters ends up in the hands of the school burn-out, Connor Murphy. Connor’s obtainment of the letter sends Evan on a journey to viral fame that has him constantly questioning his actions in his new found spotlight. Fans of the Broadway show and newcomers alike will adore this expansion to the story that speaks to our collective desire as a society to be seen and heard.

As anyone who truly knows me can imagine, I have been immensely excited for the release of this novel. The Broadway musical absolutely changed my life. As someone who struggled with anxiety and depression, I so deeply identified with Evan’s story. There were so many lines in the book of the Broadway show that I had either said or experienced at some point in my lifetime. I was thrilled that I had the opportunity to see the Broadway show with the original cast four days before the Tony Awards. I am even more excited to see the touring company next year in Chicago.

'I am ecstatic that this story is being told in a new medium where it can reach a wider audience than ever before....I believe the message behind DEAR EVAN HANSEN needs to be told dozens of times over."

That all being said, it is clear that I am a very extensive fan of this world, which makes my reading experience much different from the typical reader. There were many “changes” or “enhancements” to the story that I was not expecting going into the novel. After experiencing both narratives, I would make the assessment that the essential plot arc and message are the same, but the novel provides more opportunity for storytelling. With a Broadway show, there is a very limited time-frame that a story can be told in, which means that the amount of settings within a story need to be reduced (to avoid constant scenic changes for the tech crew on stage), the amount of characters within the story needs to be kept to a necessary minimum (to avoid having to cast/pay a boat load of actors/understudies/swings, etc.), and the plot details need to be relatively sparse. Therefore, the novel has more of an opportunity to elaborate on certain characters and plot lines because everything is left up to the audience’s imagination and the amount of words on the page, which is at the author’s discretion completely. 

One enhancement in particular that I think is worth pointing out is the addition of Connor Murphy’s point of view to the narrative. In the musical, Connor’s character is continually morphed to fit the needs of the other characters in the story. The audience never gets the opportunity to know the real Connor. Within the novel, this idea is drastically changed. There are several chapters dedicated to conveying Connor’s point of view. The audience gets to read and experience his internal thoughts and opinions. Readers also learn vital information about Connor’s background that allows them to understand his narrative arc. This change definitely surprised me, but I loved it! It was incredibly difficult for me to read these chapters, though, because I continually felt my heart breaking. It is quite odd to feel that you know or understand a character so well only to be given such new and jarring information that changes your perspective completely. I am so grateful to be able to learn more about Connor as a character because he is such an enigma to me. Learning what I know now about his character, I think it will completely change my perspective when I experience the show again next year.

Looking back on both works, there is not one that I love more than the other. Both will forever hold a special place in my heart because they tell a story that is so essential for teens and adults to hear in today’s society where we are constantly expected to fit into someone else’s mold. I am ecstatic that this story is being told in a new medium where it can reach a wider audience than ever before. I also hope that this novelization directs people to learn more about the Broadway show because there are elements of it that could never make it into this novel that are so integral for my initial love of the story. I believe the message behind DEAR EVAN HANSEN needs to be told dozens of times over. I sincerely hope all readers who pick up this beautiful contemporary story learn, appreciate and understand the value of their life. You matter. Nothing can ever that reality. This story gave me an opportunity to see that message projected in a major pop culture setting for the first time. For that, I will forever be thankful.

Reviewed by Gabby B., Teen Board Member on October 2, 2018

Dear Evan Hansen
by Val Emmich, with Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul