I’m a sucker for a good musical, but I won’t even pretend I wasn’t absolutely ANGRY when Dear Evan Hansen beat out Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 for Best Musical at the Tony Awards. For awhile, I held a bitter resentment towards this musical. But then I found out that it was becoming a novel and the author and the creators of the show, the infamous Pasek and Paul, were doing a talk in DC and I decided to give it a try. By that point, I’d listened to the soundtrack but still hadn’t seen the show so I didn’t know every plot point. I got the book (a signed copy nonetheless) and was treated to some amazing performances and discussion that warm October night, but I just now dug into the book. I’m so glad I did, and I finally understand why people like this story, even if I think Great Comet was way more original of a concept.
Dear Evan Hansen begins with Evan Hansen, a shy, anxious high school senior who has no friends and a tense relationship with his single mother. Plus, his arm’s broken and he’s got to write daily notes to himself and show them to his therapist. During his first day of school, to make things worse, he has an awkward encounter with the school loner, Connor Murphy, right in front of Connor’s sister, Zoe, who Evan has a crush on. But at least Connor Murphy signs his cast? Right. But then Connor discovers one of Evan’s letters to himself, a letter that reveals how weird and anxious he feels and also mentions Zoe, and Evan spends the next few days panicking that Connor is going to reveal that letter to the world and ruin his life. But…he doesn’t. Instead, Evan finds out that Connor has taken his own life and his parents, feeling very distant from their son, think that Evan’s letter was actually Connor’s suicide note. And Evan doesn’t know how to tell them the truth, doesn’t know how to break it to them, so all of a sudden, he’s telling them he and Connor were close, secret friends, and that Connor was there when Evan broke his arm, and that the son they thought they knew as a loner actually had a best friend. But things start to get out of control when they want more information ,more emails, and the Connor Project starts kicking off a major fundraiser. How can Evan keep lying? What happens if he tells the truth, about Connor, and about himself?
This book can be a little heavy, the subject is, but it’s done really well. Yes, there’s suicide and addiction and anxiety, but there’s also humor and a really likable narrative voice and a story that will make you crinkle your eyebrows in concern but you also don’t want to put it down. It’s kind of like watching a car crash: you know it can’t end well, but you want to watch nonetheless. It’s interesting to see how things unfold because obviously you are rooting for Evan as an antagonist and you understand, through him, why he has done that, but he makes a LOT of mistakes and is kind of the worst at times. He’s not a perfect character, which makes him interesting.
Anyway, still mad about the Tony’s, but glad I’ve read this story now!