The book that became a fabulous hit musical
Dear Evan Hansen — Val Emmich (Penguin, $26) reviewed by Louise Ward, Wardini Books
Evan Hansen is a young man with no real friends and an anxiety disorder.
His therapist has him write affirming letters to himself to bolster his confidence.
Evan mostly treats this task as a piece of homework he has to do to get his mum and Dr Sherman off his back. The one day he actually writes the truth about how he views the world (friendless and hopeless with one ray of hope in the form of Zoe, a girl he admires) the letter is intercepted by Zoe’s scary brother, Connor and Evan is left dreading exposure and ridicule.
A few days later Evan is called to a meeting with Connor’s parents; Connor has killed himself and Evan’s letter was found in his pocket. As the letter begins ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ Connor’s parents assume that Connor wrote it to Evan — a final outpouring to the close friend they never knew he had. Evan tries to tell them the truth but their grief is so thick and their hope that Connor actually had one friend so desperate that he is unable to clear the air. The situation escalates, big time.
The novel explores anxiety, miscommunication and the terrors of high school, along with the strange chance of popularity that Evan finds he is given. The school community thinks he was Connor’s friend and this lends him a morbid glamour. Connor’s parents and sister treat him like family and he develops a new sense of belonging.
Dear Evan Hansen, also a stage musical, is written with sensitivity and humour. It deals with the big stuff along with teen difficulties and shows how people can grow through loss and adversity. Evan is an entertaining character — he doesn’t take himself too seriously and gives a light tone to a dark subject. Poignant, gently amusing and eminently readable.
‘It deals with the big stuff along with more usual teen difficulties and shows how people can grow through loss and adversity.’