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Book Review: Dear Evan Hansen

Broadway’s bona fide hit is now a bestselling book, and this aunt-and-niece pair are big believers in the story’s ability to explore mental illness in a way that draws in teens and adults alike.

ADULT REVIEW | Jessica Lahey

I saw the musical Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway a few years ago when I scored a single ticket during a work trip to New York City. Going to shows by myself is one of my guilty pleasures when traveling, as single seats are usually cheaper and easier to find—even for smash hits. The downside, however, is that I often leave the theater alone and awash in emotion.

And so it was with Dear Evan Hansen. My deepest regret was that I did not have my sons, my nieces, and a couple hundred of my students with me.

Naturally, I was captivated by the beautifully written, faithful novelization of the musical authored by Val Emmich along with the show’s creators, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul.

At the plot’s center is Evan Hansen, an anxious, friendless high school student who gets caught up in a social media firestorm after telling what started out as a harmless lie about a classmate, Connor, who has died by suicide. That lie—compounded by the spotlight of social media, Evan’s desire to alleviate the grief of Connor’s family, and Evan’s love for Connor’s sister—turns into a deep well of lies Evan can’t easily escape.

While the attention and adulation for Dear Evan Hansen tends to focus on the impact of social media on teens, I believe the real impact of this book comes from its portrayal of Evan and Connor. I was thrilled to find that the novel affords these characters more room to explore the pain of their anxiety, depression, and social isolation—without being triggering or gratuitous for teen readers. The novel contains all the backstory I yearned for when I saw the musical, and I loved every bit of it.

 Jessica Lahey is an educator and author of The Gift of Failure.

TEEN REVIEW | Mina Jones

Novelizations of movies and musicals don’t always hit the mark. However, the hit Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen seamlessly goes from stage to page (likely because the novel was written by the creators themselves). That’s no easy feat considering the story addresses sensitive issues, including anxiety, depression, and suicide.

Dear Evan Hansen, the novel and the play, relates the story of Evan, a socially invisible boy who accidentally gets wrapped up in a classmate’s suicide and then has to deal with the moral implications of his actions. The story defies convention because its protagonist is in the wrong for much of the book, but this doesn’t go unacknowledged. Evan realizes the consequences that his actions cause for both himself and others—making this story work much better than it would have if the authors didn’t address Evan’s wrongdoing.

This book also handles mental health quite skillfully. Multiple characters struggle with mental health issues, including Evan, who deals with severe anxiety. When Connor dies by suicide, the harmful ripple effect is seen through each character’s lens, which shows how much suicide hurts everyone. The inclusion of characters with mental health issues is a great way to help readers, and addressing mental illness as a normal thing could potentially save lives.

Dear Evan Hansen is a must-read for anyone struggling with mental illness or people who feel lost in their own heads because, as the book and musical tell us, we will be found.

Mina Jones is an eighth grader at Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville, AR.

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