YA Review: Dear Evan Hansen

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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: Quiver by Julia Watts

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TitleQuiver by Julia Watts

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Libby, a teenager in rural Tennessee, is raised in a conservative Christian sect that views people as quivers in “God’s righteous army” and women as strictly homemakers. When she befriends a genderfluid teen named Zo, she struggles to reconcile her beliefs with her friend’s lifestyle and freedom.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This story features a genderfluid character named Zo who has two loving, pro-LGBTQ parents in a conservative, rural town. Quiver also discusses their sexual orientation and conflict between belonging in the lesbian community while feeling like something other than a cis woman. One of the secondary characters is also a POC trans girl.

What I loved: Quiver is told with a dual narrative between Libby and Zo, two teenagers who grow up in nearly opposite living environments. In this way, Quiver sends an overall message of compassion and understanding one’s upbringing, even if it’s not the same as your own. At times, I did feel like it leaned a little more sympathetic to Zo’s story than Libby’s and painted Christianity in a somewhat stereotypical light. But it also reflected the mindset of a lot of conservative religious groups and the difficulty groups on polarized social beliefs can have with befriending each other.

It feels like this book could be useful to help teens who grew up in strongly right- or left-leaning households understand people who don’t think in ways they’re used to. By having a narrator they can relate to and another with a possibly unfamiliar voice, it could expose them to other ways of thinking without pushing them far out of their comfort zone. Both Libby and Zo are incredibly sympathetic characters who help bridge anger and misconceptions their families have of each other, and I think that’s a beautiful message to send in such a politically fiery climate.

The only issue I had with this one is that I felt the writing style was a little stilted. Libby and Zo’s voices also weren’t as distinct as they could have been, so sometimes I’d forget that the chapter had changed and gotten confused about the narration. Because of that, I had a hard time really immersing myself in the story like I wanted to. But the concept itself is fascinating enough that becomes a compelling read, regardless.

Quote: “Sometimes I don’t even feel like I have a gender—that the body that contains my personality is no more significant than the jar that holds the peanut butter.”

Recommended: Quiver is one of those LGBTQ YA books that humanizes both left-wing and conservative right viewpoints in the idea that most people are just trying to do the right thing. If you want to cultivate empathy for a perspective different from your own, this could be a powerful read.

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

LGBTQ YA Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

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Title: The Art of Being Normal

Author: Lisa Williamson

Rating: 4/5

Two sentence summary: Fourteen-year-old David Piper is hiding a secret: even though she was born male, she would give anything to be a normal girl like her sister. When her school’s new student Leo Denton stands up for her in a fight, she finds that “normal” is much more messy and complicated than she thought.


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 Photos via Unsplash

What I loved: I thought that this novel did a great job handling heavy themes with grace and respect. Often, trans YA books deal only with gender identity and the consequences of coming out. That is a strong element of The Art of Being Normal, but Leo and David’s stories also deal with poverty, childhood neglect, absent parents, and bullying. I liked how the novel didn’t gravitate around gender because it made David’s trans identity seem less isolated. She’s not just this stock character who has nothing going for her besides her gender identity. She’s connected to Leo, her friends and family, and others in her life in a way that adds dimension to her personality. Her gender identity is important, but it’s not her defining feature. I think it’s important to broaden trans YA from “trans coming out stories” to “trans characters having rich, complex experiences” and this book does so very well.

The Art of Being Normal is written in a dual POV, with chapters switching off between David and Leo. I’m not always in love with this format because it can be difficult to make the two voices separate. In this book, though, it’s effective. Both Leo and David have distinct, well-developed voices and their POVs add important elements to the novel. If the story were told from just one POV, it wouldn’t feel as compelling.

Quote: “Besides, who wants to be normal anyway? Fancy that on your gravestone. ‘Here lies so-and-so. They were entirely normal.’”

Recommended: This is a book I’d recommend for people who want more insight into the trans experience if they’re not as familiar with the LGBTQ community. It’s a great “beginner” book for delving into trans YA. It’s insightful and offers a strong window into David’s story without bogging the text down with too many definitions. I love that it normalizes the trans experience while still voicing unique experiences that teens may face while coming out. Balanced, a little bittersweet, but ultimately a beautiful read.

Next: The Weekend Bucket List by Mia Kerick