62 pages • 2 hours readVal Emmich
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Dear Evan Hansen is a novel published in 2018. It was written by Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul. The authors adapted the novel from the original Broadway musical of the same name, which they also wrote. The musical premiered in July 2015 in Washington, DC, debuted on Broadway in 2016, and later won six Tony Awards in 2017, including Best Musical. This guide refers to the Poppy/Little, Brown, and Company edition printed in 2018.
One notable difference between the musical and the novel is the inclusion of Connor Murphy’s perspective. Connor’s segments are disbursed throughout the novel, appended to the end of several chapters and denoted by Roman numerals.
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Evan is a shy, timid high school senior. He has severe social anxiety that prevents him from forming friendships at school, talking to the delivery person, and driving a car. He sees a therapist and takes medication to manage his anxiety. He also writes letters to himself to sort out his feelings, hence the title Dear Evan Hansen. He lives with his mom on the East Coast after his parents divorced several years ago. His dad moved to Colorado and remarried. Following the divorce, Evan’s relationship with his dad has been strained, as he seems too absorbed by his new family to pay attention to Evan. Meanwhile, his relationship with his mom is not much better, as she works long hours at a hospital and takes night classes.
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Before class starts Evan sees Alana Beck, the class overachiever, and Jared Kleinmann, who Evan only knows because Jared’s mom helped Evan’s find the house they live in. Jared and Evan are talking when they are interrupted by the school’s resident outcast, Connor Murphy. Jared taunts Connor, causing Evan to laugh nervously. Connor responds by pushing Evan to the ground. Zoe Murphy, Connor’s sister and the girl Evan has a crush on, comes to Evan’s aid. Evan tries to strike up a conversation with her but becomes nervous and can’t figure out what to say.
Later, when he is finishing a letter to his therapist in the computer lab, Evan runs into Connor again. Connor asks Evan how he broke his arm then signs his cast. Before he leaves, Connor holds up Evan’s letter, which he grabbed from the printer before Evan could retrieve it. He confronts Evan about why the letter mentions his sister before leaving with the letter. The next day at school Evan is convinced that Connor told everyone about the letter, but Connor and Zoe are nowhere to be found. Two days later Evan is called in to the principal’s office, where he meets Mr. and Mrs. Murphy. They tell him that Connor took his own life, and they found Evan’s letter with him when he died. However, because the letter begins with “Dear Evan Hansen,” they think that Connor wrote the letter for Evan. As Evan leaves, Mrs. Murphy tells him that the letter is all they have left of Connor.
Evan attends Connor’s wake, where Evan plans to tell the Murphys the truth about the letter, but instead Mrs. Murphy invites him to dinner at their house. At the Murphys’ house, Evan, who still hasn’t told the Murphys that the letter is his, says he and Connor used to go to an apple orchard together, hoping that this would prove they were friends. Evan sees how much the stories mean to the Murphys, so he keeps the lie going. Evan also tells them that Connor did not want anyone to know they were friends, so they communicated through a private email address. When he tells Jared about the emails, he offers to help Evan write a series of fake emails to give to the Murphys.
When news travels around school that Evan and Connor were “friends,” Evan becomes very popular. Soon people are counting on him to keep Connor’s memory alive, so he, along with Alana and Jared, create an initiative called the Connor Project dedicated to preserving Connor’s legacy and spreading awareness of mental health and suicide. When a speech given by Evan at Connor’s memorial ceremony goes viral, the Connor Project gains widespread attention all over the country from people who see themselves in Connor’s story. The Connor Project launches a fundraising campaign to restore the apple orchard from Evan’s story about Connor.
Evan tries desperately to sustain the lie, as he can see how happy it makes the Murphys, all the while becoming more attached to their family, as they provide the feeling of acceptance and safety he craves from his own home. Eventually Evan can no longer keep the secret together, and the Murphys find out the truth. Instead of revealing Evan’s secret, as he feared, they forgive him and do not reveal the truth about Evan and Connor’s friendship. In the end, the orchard is fully funded, becoming a memorial to Connor’s life and a symbol of hope and acceptance for all who see themselves in Connor’s story.