YA Review: Dear Evan Hansen

Image result for dear evan hansen book

TitleDear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, & Justin Paul

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: High school senior Evan Hansen feels like he’s drowning in a sea of loneliness and anxiety. But after his classmate Connor Murphy commits suicide and Evan is mistaken as his best friend, he straddles the line between truth and fiction in an attempt to belong.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This is going to come as a major spoiler to anyone who’s seen the musical, but there are two queer characters in the novelization. One is an openly gay cis man and his semi-love interest, a pansexual cis man. Part of the pansexual character’s emotional turmoil seems to come from the failed relationship, as well as drug abuse and depression.

What I loved: Well, when I finally got to read the Dear Evan Hansen novelization after months of pining for it, I didn’t think I’d get to write about it on my LGBTQ YA catalog but here we are. This is, again, a pretty significant spoiler if you already love the musical so you’ve been warned, but I found the decision to portray Connor Murphy as bisexual fascinating.

On the one hand, it’s pretty straightforward “bury your gays,” which isn’t great. But it did add more depth to his character than the musical gave, especially because several chapters in the novelization are told from his perspective. I genuinely enjoyed his voice and felt that it gave his death true weight without glorifying suicide or romanticizing mental illness.

But Evan Hansen’s voice, however, I did not like. This was really disappointing, as I relate a lot to Evan as someone with social anxiety. The first time I heard “Waving Through a Window,” I felt like someone out there understood what it was like to crave close relationships but feel incapable of making them. It seemed like the Evan of the musical and novel were two different people. One was complex and empathetic, and the other felt whiny and shallow.

Even though most of the story takes place in Evan’s head, I felt like he didn’t contain the same likability as his musical counterpart. They might say the same things, but the internal motivation the book gives for Evan’s actions felt a little too simplistic. It’s an enjoyable read, especially if you like the musical, but because Evan’s character isn’t well-developed in the novelization, the plot doesn’t stand well on its own. 

Quote: “Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a great day and here’s why: because today at least you’re you and, well, that’s enough.”

Recommended: If you’re a fan of the musical, I think you’ll find this adaptation at least fascinating, if not enjoyable. Or if you’re looking for subtle bi representation, you might like Dear Evan Hansen. But before reading, keep in mind that this book does contain heavy themes. If you’re sensitive to suicide, substance abuse, homophobia, or , check out a few more reviews before reading.

Queer YA Review: What If It’s Us

Image result for what if it's us adam silvera

TitleWhat If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli

Rating: 5/5

Two-sentence summary: Arthur’s summer trip to New York City wasn’t supposed to turn into a meet-cute romance, but when he and Ben bump into each other at the post office, he feels like he’s living in the Broadway musicals he always dreamed of. But does the universe really have a love story planned, or will separations, misunderstandings, and an eventual move back to Georgia put an end to their relationship?

BeFunky-collage (5)

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: What If It’s Us is a queer YA romance between two cis gay men. There are also several LGBTQ minor characters, including an ex-boyfriend and a queer female coworker. Heads up that there’s a brief, but intense aggressive scene in the novel—while the characters involved aren’t physical harmed, they do face homophobic insults and threats of violence.

What I loved: Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli are some of my favorite LGBTQ YA authors, and their writing styles meshed perfectly in What If It’s Us. Arthur and Ben both have unique voices and personalities throughout the novel, and their thoughts and feelings are distinct in ways that make them a cute match. With Arthur, you have the optimistic, yet anxious “first love” voice, which complements Ben’s recently-broken-up-and-somewhat-cynical voice well. Their differences make for some awkward, yet entertaining and all-around wholesome moments that capture the title’s feeling. Their budding romance is uncertain, yet hopeful that they’ve finally met “the one” in the way that all relationships start.

This book also features minor themes that adds depth to their story and relationship. It touches on race and privilege through Ben, a white-passing Puerto Rican who feels alienated because others don’t recognize his heritage. Not only does the story validate Ben’s insecurities, but it also check and helps him recognize his privilege as someone who is white-passing. I also loved how it featured mental health themes through Arthur’s discussion of ADHD and another character who’s hospitalized for a panic attack. It made the characters and their lived experience feel all the more real and brought up points worth talking about.

Also, I loved the male friendships portrayed in this book! You don’t always see that in queer YA, but it’s so needed to feature platonic friendships between gay characters and members of the same sex. Both Arthur and Ben have male friends who they feel close to without experiencing romantic attraction. I also appreciated how What If It’s Us explored the complexities of said relationships, however, like how they can change when someone comes out or whether it’s possible to stay friends with your ex-boyfriend. All common experiences that don’t always have a spot in YA fiction, but should.

The only thing I’m frustrated about is (slight spoiler) the fairly ambiguous ending, but I think that shows how well-developed Arthur, Ben, and their relationship was. And having an open ending made What If It’s Us mirror real life while still retaining that excitement, hope, and unlimited possibilities that the story began on. Their relationship in general, from first meet to the end of the novel, developed naturally despite the coincidences and sheer luck that brought the two together. Keeping a foot grounded in reality while still exploring ideas of “love at first sight” and “destined to meet” helps their story feel extraordinary without seeming melodramatic.

This was such a cute book—cute characters, cute story, and cute cover art as well. Plus, I’ve been a sucker for Dear Evan Hansen ever since a friend introduced it to me in college, so the title drew me in pretty fast. Arthur is a big musical theater fan, so if you are as well, this book’s for you. Especially if you like Hamilton, as you may find references to it and its fandom pretty amusing.

Quote: “I barely know him. I guess that’s any relationship. You start with nothing and maybe end with everything.”

Recommended: What If It’s Us is one of the happiest LGBTQ YA novels I’ve ever read! It’s a story where you read it and feel all warm and hopeful inside after you’ve finished it, like the people we meet and form relationships with matter regardless of how much time we spend with them. If you’re looking for an uplifting, wholesome queer love story, you’ve gotta check this one out. Doubly so if you like stories about missed connections, musicals, and first love.

Note: I received an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review.