For What It's Worth

Thursday, October 18, 2018

review: dear evan hansen by val emmich

39088507From the show's creators comes the groundbreaking novel inspired by the Broadway smash hit Dear Evan Hansen.

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. ~ Goodreads

Source: ARC provided by the publisher via ALA18


I had a lot of conflicting thoughts about Dear Evan Hansen. To prevent this from becoming a nonsensical ramble – possible rant – I’m going to break it down into what worked and what didn’t work for me.

Stop trying to make fetch happen:

From the Goodreads summary - “From the show's creators comes the groundbreaking novel” 

From the publisher forward – “From The Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders to The Fault in Our Star and Eleanor & Park, we know that millions of readers of all ages can be united by a single powerful coming-of –age story. this year, that story will be Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel. This novel will define a generation, and together we will make it a modern classic. Dear Evan Hansen is not just a musical, and the novel is not just a book; Dear Evan Hansen is a movement…”

Honestly, this type of hype and publisher spin just pisses me off. Dear Evan Hansen is good book. It has important things to say. it occasionally does that very well. Some of it not so well. It’s not original or groundbreaking. Sure, not this particular story, but mental illness, coming of age, isolation…It’s been done both better and worse before.

Evan Hansen: I liked Evan. He does some despicable things. Like lying to a grieving family about knowing their son, Connor They find a letter addressed to Evan – assume it was a suicide note to his best friend (Evan). Evan let's them believe it, rather than telling the truth. It was a note that Evan was writing to himself as an assignment for his therapist and Connor had stolen it from Evan at school.

Despite that, I understood how Evan got into this mess. He suffers from severe, debilitating anxiety and a somewhat distant relationship with his overworked, single mom. So when the note brings Connor’s family comfort and they wrap him in their love and family as he spins tales of a friendship that has never existed – well, I got it. I don’t approve of it – but I got it. And I think Emmich did a wonderful job of portraying Evan’s anxiety and treatment but also how mental illness touches those around him.

Connor: Connor has a pov as something of a ghost or maybe his spirit before it passes. He’s dead but can travel around and sees his family grieving & hears Evan's lies while telling the reader about the events led up to his suicide.

Connor is a fascinating character. He has a reputation as a violent, drug addicted, unhinged, loner at school. Through Connor’s pov, we see that not every story was true – at least not to the extent that the stories are embellished and grow into urban legends.

But…are they true? I could never figure out if Connor was an unreliable narrator or not. His side certainly seems plausible. Maybe he is just misunderstood or lonely but those very close to him, like his sister, felt threatened and scared and we did see him act violently towards Evan at school.

Mental health: So, this is where I had the most trouble with this book. And I get that every reader brings their own experience to a book so I’m not knocking anyone who finds comfort or their truth here but while I felt Evan’s & to some extent Connor’s experiences were raw, honest and on point – that narrative took a nosedive toward the end..

Most of these books have a hook - something other than the mental illness to inspire growth and meaning for the main character, in this case, Evan. But they come at the cost of other people and a topic that should be handled better.

For example – when the truth about Evan comes out – the book flashes forward and we see that Evan has successfully come out the other side. Yes, with therapy and coping mechanisms but he was barely living day to day in the beginning but the reader doesn’t see how he got there?

And Connor’s mental state is diluted down to his depression and suicide being over the loss of a relationship? Which, I can see how it was devastating for him and what led to him to give up but it’s never really explained what was going on with Connor. I just felt like the violence was pushed aside somewhat to latch onto the lost love narrative.

Final thoughts: I think Evan Hansen brings up a lot of interesting issues. Is it worth letting a lie stand if it helps others? It also addresses social media and instant celebrity/validation, mental illness and how it effects the entire family and relationships – which is one of the best things about this book.

Evan’s single mom and Connor’s parents are struggling and in so much pain. They make mistakes when dealing with their children. It’s nuanced, painful, and done so well. I wish that this was the focus or at least there was follow through instead of a shift to wrapping things up neatly and quickly.

I'm not a fan of using a cutesy premise and sacrificing one characters pain/arc to show *life is worth living!* for the main character. Portraying something that causes so much pain to others and then kind of sweeping it all under the rug to get to a happy ending and say see! It was bad but worth it! I couldn't help but wonder about the aftermath to Connor's family after learning that everything they so desperately wanted to know about their dead son was a lie. That's not shown. Or how Evan healed.

We're just supposed to believe that this was a mistake but it helped everyone grow so worth it and that's just not my jam anymore.

I can see why readers find this story inspiring but it wasn't for me.

Ok – so that was a long and rambling anyway lol Sorry

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Whatever Wednesday: TBB Asks - october fall 2.0


Favorite Fall Color?
Apple Cider HOT or COLD?
Caramel Apple: Yes or No?
Pumpkin Doughnut or Apple Cider Doughnut?
Long or Short Cardigan?
Favorite Football or Fall Party Food?
Orange or White Pumpkins?
Hayride or Bonfire?
Favorite Fall Baked Good?
Most Anticipated Fall Activity?

IMG_20181013_085741_972I almost didn't do this months prompt. The sad truth is – I live in FL and it’s still 90 degrees so I can’t enjoy fall.

But if were to answer each question - there wouldn't be an either/or - I love EVERYTHING about fall. All the colors, all the food, all the decor, all the activities. (except football)

I am feeling defiant though, so I’m baking a pumpkin pie today. And it was 57 the other morning so I pulled out a sweater to wear (with shorts lol) for approximately 30 minutes before I got too hot.

I hate winter but boy do I miss fall!

What are your fall favorites?

Monday, October 15, 2018

monday mini: For Every One by Jason Reynolds

I just have one mini today - For Every One by Jason Reynolds.

From Goodreads:

Originally performed at the Kennedy Center for the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and later as a tribute to Walter Dean Myers, this stirring and inspirational poem is New York Times bestselling author and National Book Award finalist Jason Reynolds’s rallying cry to the dreamers of the world.

For Every One is just that: for every one. For every one person. For every one dream. But especially for every one kid. The kids who dream of being better than they are. Kids who dream of doing more than they almost dare to dream. Kids who are like Jason Reynolds, a self-professed dreamer. Jason does not claim to know how to make dreams come true; he has, in fact, been fighting on the front line of his own battle to make his own dreams a reality. He expected to make it when he was sixteen. Then eighteen. Then twenty-five. Now, some of those expectations have been realized. But others, the most important ones, lay ahead, and a lot of them involve kids, how to inspire them. All the kids who are scared to dream, or don’t know how to dream, or don’t dare to dream because they’ve NEVER seen a dream come true. Jason wants kids to know that dreams take time. They involve countless struggles. But no matter how many times a dreamer gets beat down, the drive and the passion and the hope never fully extinguish—because just having the dream is the start you need, or you won’t get anywhere anyway, and that is when you have to take a leap of faith.

Source: Finished copy provided by the publisher via ALA18

My thoughts:

I have been wanting to try Reynolds books for a very long time. I picked up this book and Long Way Down while at ALA. At just over 100 pages, this was a perfect introduction to his writing.

For Every One is for all the's part poetry, part letter, with pieces of random thoughts thrown in. It's sparse yet heartfelt.

It reads a like an inspirational commencement speech; raw, beautiful and encouraging and the hardcover is gorgeous – making it the perfect gift for a graduate or someone just starting out or embarking on their dreams.

And I love this space that allows you to personalize and pass the book on to future dreamers...