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

Review:

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

29 comments:

  1. The marketing tries soooo hard. Already the manufactured hype turned me off. The premise also sounds exploitative and I don't like how pain was used.

    I'd probably have a rant if I read it.

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    1. I hate to take away from people who may be helped by it but exploitative is how I felt about it. Using one persons pain to further your story - without fully exploring the fallout to Connor's family just left me with a bad taste.

      And OMG that blurb.

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  2. I thought that you did a great job at reviewing this one. I hadn't heard of it before now but I can see where some of your points would be valid and I think I'd feel similar

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    1. I can totally see how readers have found this inspirational but the second half and resolution didn't work for me.

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  3. I really liked the book, but I also totally agree with a lot of what you said. I wish more was shown with Connor's family and how Evan dealt with his mental illness in a better way. I could understand how Evan got into the position he was in, but at the same time, I didn't agree with it, and I don't think you're supposed to. I heard that the actual musical doesn't have Connor's POV so that was added for the book... makes me even more curious about the musical.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. I understood Evan. I was surprised by that but I did. Like you, I didn't agree but I got it.

      I think my problem was that the author handled mental illness really well up until the truth comes out. Then it's all swept away and the work is done behind the scenes and everyone turns out ok (& even better) thanks to the lie so it was all ok to do.

      And to me that's where all the hard work should have began.

      It's hard for me to put aside the parent's pain just to feel good about Evan. That's probably more because I'm reading as an adult than the intended audience.

      I think the play would actually work better for me in a way.

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  4. This book sounds like it would have been really good if some things had been written differently. I have a feeling I would be disappointed in it like you were.

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    1. It was good - just not great - and I think it glossed over the biggest issues it brought up.

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  5. Sorry to hear you didn't care for this one.

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  6. I didn't realize that the book was inspired by the show and not the other way around. Interesting. That marketing blurb is so full of hyperbole that it makes you wonder if at the team meeting they just decided to throw all the excitable words and cliches in there so they could go to an early lunch. Ugh. Having not seen the show or read the book, it seems like there's an underlying emotional cruelty than is deemed "okay" or "worth it in the end." I have a hard time going with that sometimes.

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    1. OMG that blurb! It's ridiculous.

      It's a very popular show and I get how it could be inspiring to people but get a grip lol

      I'm not a fan of glossing over the pain you cause someone else just so you can grow.

      And that's the biggest problem I had. They did a really good job portraying mental illness at first but then jumped right over the really hard work once the secret was out. In fact, they jumped ahead a year.

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  7. I hate blurbs like that! I do want to see the play - I have heard it's good. Not sure I want to read the book though. Sorry it didn't work for you!

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    1. Honestly, I think the play would work better.

      but it's also a personal preference for me. It's hard for me to overlook one characters pain just to get to another's redemption. I always keep thinking about the other person. lol

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  8. Rants and rambling are good! I enjoyed your review!

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  9. So I had like... just a feeling that I wouldn't like this, for some reason. And I am SO glad that I didn't pick it up because I think I would feel the exact same way you did. I hate when creators show mental illness as something that can easily be fixed- and by fixing it "offscreen", that is what you're showing. Like okay, say you need help, 3 days later everything's awesome", it's just so untrue! And then you'll end up with a bunch of kids wondering why their therapy takes years, and medication, and has setbacks... GAH I will stop rambling but I find this whole thing so irresponsible! Thank you for the honest thoughts about this one! Great review!

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    1. The first half was done SO well -f or both Connor and Evan but then it goes off the rails because we need that happy, uplifting ending and NOPE.

      After the shot really hits the fan and the hard work should be starting - the book skips ahead a year. O_O

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  10. I can't begin to picture this as a musical in any way. I totally get your rant. And it's your opinion and that counts! Nope, I won't be racing in his one. Thanks.

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    1. I think it would actually be better in a musical. Maybe getting to see the characters reactions would make me believe that Connor's family was ok. You could see the emotions that are skipped over in the book.

      but really, this isn't the kind of story I enjoy anymore.

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  11. (I swear, I thought i had already written a comment for this, but then i realized that it was probably IN MY HEAD and i never hit publish. Why? WHO KNOWS!). This has been on my list of theater shows to see, because I wake up to the "Tap tap tapping on your glass. WAAAAAVING through windows..." song almost every morning.

    Anyhoo, that's too bad this didn't draw you in as much as you were hoping. Though, that is a LOT of hype to be put out by a publisher. This will be a movement? I mean, maybe? Anyway, I might pass on the book but not on the play if I can get my hands on tickets :)

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  12. Hmmm...yeah doesn't sound like this is for me...

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    1. People really love it so I don't know...it's just not for me.

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  13. What an interesting review. I know a lot of people love this musical so it is interesting to see the novel come out. I might have to read it because I love when the matter is tricky like this and I get to make up my mind. But yes, marketing like that does annoy me sometimes, but publishers will be publishers I guess *shrugs* I think that kind of sacrificing one person's character arc to teach the other something is definitely not the best trope out there, and I can see how it is frustrating. But I am glad the representation is done very well in this novel. And I do like an unreliable narrator, so I think I would like that side of things.

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    1. I think I would enjoy the musical more but so many people found this book and story inspiring. It's not my kind of thing but I get it.

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