Reading this book three years ago made me say though I haven’t seen the musical this work is based on (which is a switch. A book based on a musical instead of the other way around), I may want to dust off my dancing shoes, if I ever had any. Well, in anticipation for the movie, I wanted to reupload my original review. I’m excited and scared at the same time to watch the movie and return to this story. It’s not the easiest to digest, but not in a bad way.
Evan Hansen’s real name is Mark Evan Hansen. Those initials form the expression of someone either groaning or indifferent. And that’s how he feels he is with the world. No one at school even knows how he broke his arm. To him, it’s kind of a pathetic story. He saw a tree while at his job as a park ranger last summer, had a strong desire to climb, and fell. And he stayed there for ten minutes, imagining and waiting for someone to come get him. He does have a friend, or half-friend named Jared, who jokes at his expense like my sister does. The only one Evan really desires to see him as Evan Hansen, as an “eh”, “Good job, eh” is a musician in his grade named Zoe Murphy. Instead of going after her, he is told by his doctor to write notes to himself, in the form of “Dear Evan Hansen” to try to talk to himself. One day, one of these notes is intercepted by Zoe’s brother, outcast Connor Murphy. And it turns out, Evan just might have been the last person Connor spoke to before he hung himself. This puts him in a situation of heartbreak, responsibility, lies meant to mean well, and personal demons.
This was a big brand new for me. It’s the first book I’ve read with four authors, when the biggest number has always been two, and you just don’t see many books based off of a prior visual entertainment form. This took me about nine days to read, and during that time I was in a generally negative mood, mostly keeping to myself in my college dorm. I’d wake up feeling unsure of myself and my so-called skills, and I all of a sudden felt sad about how many friends I’ve not kept in contact with, and how I wish I could spend more time with my family…and looking back, you guessed it, these emotions may have stemmed from reading this book. I’ve read hundreds of books over the last eight years, and not many can do something like that.
At first, having not read the synopsis on the jacket I thought this would be another Holding up the Universe with overdrive on infatuation, predictability, and fake swoons of short-chapter cliffhangers. It may have a little of the final thing, which I assume is from the four authors each trying to add a bit of sugar and spice wherever they individually can and going maybe a little overboard as a result, but the swoons are certainly not fake.
The antagonist kind of switches, depending on the circumstance. But after it all, I’d say the bad guy is life. Life in general. Evan keeps trying to do the right thing and whenever he comes up with a lie, I asked myself if I would’ve done the same. The turmoil of the Murphy family, and how they hang on Evan to feel they weren’t failures as parents and sister to Connor, gives them a happiness Evan knows would shatter them if it was found to be fake, and we do too. As a generally slow-paced book, especially at the beginning, about a character we worry is in his head too often and as a result preventing plot progression, Evan still manages to win us over by feeling the true dread of his damned-if-he-does damned-if-he-doesn’t.
There’s also a side-narrator that pops in once in a while, and it’s a ghost. At first it seemed to be just weird filler that wasn’t going to go anywhere, but we get more invested in the part of the story Evan doesn’t know about as his story is partially witnessed from someone else’s view, and as the crusade goes on, I found it actually positively unsettling thinking about Evan being watched in the way that he is, but it’s not as creepy as I’m making it out to be. It’s not creepy at all, really.
Writing books about someone’s life self-destructing on them and getting us to care about all of it requires an honesty, openness and desperation to work, and when the cracks finally begin showing by the two-third mark, I was so invested I was sometimes scared to keep reading. And the final sidebar chapter might make you want to call a relative, and tell them you love them.
Also, the next time you’re at a bookstore or library, I’d suggest looking for a copy and stare at the cover for a minute. That tree has every beautiful shade of blue I can imagine, so defining of the natural beauty of wildlife, dyed blue from its original green and brown or not. Every time I went to bed after a read session, I’d stare at the tree again for a while. Dear Evan Hansen is a book that takes a while to finish and has some moments of traction and end-chapter repetition, but that tree will be there on my shelf, for me to look at and remember all that happened when I was reading this book.