Hello humans! Welcome back to another book review! I’ve got a whole host of amazing titles to share in the coming weeks so be sure you stop by every now and then.
Today I am reviewing the book Dear Evan Hansen, based on the musical of the same name. I knew the musical pretty well so I was interested to see how the book compared.
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.
It was an interesting situation to be in for many reasons. For the most part, I think my weirdness about it was tied up in the fact that I’m so used to the book/movie crossover I wasn’t quite prepared for how a book/musical crossover would go. I don’t think I can confidently review this without comparing it to the musical so I’m sorry if anyone doesn’t know what I’m talking about, I urge you to go and listen to the soundtrack, it’s just wonderful.
So I suppose the main benefit of writing a book to go alongside a stage show is that you can go into a bit more detail, more backstory, more character than you can onstage. For the most part, this book achieves that. I thought it was interesting that I actually found Evan a much less likeable character in the book than he comes across in the musical. That’s not to say he isn’t a compelling main character and certainly his struggles come off the page in a much more real way then they do on stage, but certain things like his relationship with his mother and with Zoe feel much more broken than they do on stage. So you do get that depth of character. There are also plot elements that you don’t get from the stage show (I mean, you get Connor’s perspective which was pretty damn cool). So, for those who adore the show and are wanting to delve even deeper into the story then I’d say this is worth a read. And, let’s face it, the people who love the show are the target audience for the book.
But that’s not to say that I totally loved this book.
I think, with a musical, you get more of a willing suspension of disbelief because there aren’t quite the same means of communicating a complicated plot as there is in a book and as audiences, we’re quite used to ludicrously complex set-ups (my mind jumps to Mama Mia). In contrast, in books (even in speculative fiction) we’re more cynical. We’ll accept a somewhat ridiculous set up (sticking with the Mia theme, I’m going to cite Princess Diaries as my example here) but we do kind of expect the authors to work to make it a bit more plausible. I’m not saying that the plot doesn’t work in book form – because it does – but it has that feel of ‘yeah right’ to it that I couldn’t quite shake.
Because how would this book read if you hadn’t seen the musical or listened to the soundtrack? Obviously, I have so I can’t fully detach from that, but would the plot seem even more – for want of a better word – fake? Would the moments where the song lyrics actually appear within dialogue or various scenes feel shoehorned and odd if you didn’t have the memory of that onstage moment to back them up? Again, the intended audience is surely fans of the show so it doesn’t matter too much, but you do have to consider people who will pick this up in bookshops and libraries who don’t have that connection, how will they find the story.
I will say that this book did still manage to get me in the same places that the musical does. Of course, I miss those swelling crescendos and Ben Platt’s gorgeous performance but the story is still a powerful one even on the page. Of course, it takes a little suspension of disbelief but I think we can all relate to that feeling of getting in totally over our heads and feeling everything come toppling down at once. And what else can one expect of a book based on a musical – really?
My rating: 3/5 stars
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? What are your thoughts on books to musicals (and vice versa)? Let me know in the comments below!