By Val Emmich
By Benj Pasek
By Justin Paul
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From the show’s creators comes the groundbreaking, bestselling novel inspired by the hit Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen and soon to be a major motion picture!
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 griefover 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.
I made my exit.
Better to burn out, right, than to fade away? Kurt Cobain said that in his letter. I watched a video about all the famous ones. Ernest Hemingway. Robin Williams. Virginia Woolf. Hunter S. Thompson. Sylvia Plath. David Foster Wallace. Van Gogh. I’m not comparing myself—trust me. Those people actually made an impact. I did nothing. I couldn’t even write a note.
Burning is the right way to paint it. You feel yourself getting so hot, day after day. Hotter and hotter. It gets to be too much. Even for stars. At some point they fizzle out or explode. Cease to be. But if you’re looking up at the sky, you don’t see it that way. You think all those stars are still there. Some aren’t. Some are already gone. Long gone. I guess, now, so am I.
My name. That was the last thing I wrote. On another kid’s cast. Not quite a goodbye note. But hey, I made my little mark. On a broken limb. Seems about right. Poetic if you think about it. And thinking is just about all I can do now.
Dear Evan Hansen,
That’s how all my letters begin. First the Dear part, because that’s just what you write at the top of any letter. That’s standard. Next comes the name of the person you’re writing to. In this case, it’s me. I’m writing to myself. So, yeah, Evan Hansen.
Evan is actually my middle name. My mom wanted me to be Evan and my dad wanted me to be Mark, which is his name. My dad won the battle, according to my birth certificate, but my mom won the war. She has never called me anything other than Evan. As a result, neither has my dad. (Spoiler alert: My parents are no longer together.)
I’m only Mark on my driver’s license (which I never use), or when I’m filling out job applications, or when it’s the first day of school, like today. My new teachers will call out “Mark” during attendance, and I will have to ask each one to please call me by my middle name. Naturally, this will have to be done when everyone else has vacated the room.
There are a million and ten things from the subatomic to the cosmic that can rattle my nerves on a daily basis, and one of those things is my initials. M.E.H. Like the word: meh. Meh is basically a shoulder shrug, and that pretty much sums up the reaction I get from society at large. As opposed to the surprise of oh. Or the wow of ah. Or the hesitation of uh. Or the confusion of huh. Meh is pure indifference. Take it or leave it. Doesn’t matter. No one cares. Mark Evan Hansen? Meh.
But I’d rather think of myself as eh, which is more like seeking approval, waiting for confirmation. Like, How about that Evan Hansen, eh?
My mom says I’m a true Pisces. The symbol for a Pisces is two fish tied together trying to swim in opposite directions. She’s into all that astrology crap. I installed an app on her phone that displays her daily horoscope. Now she’ll leave me handwritten messages around the house, saying things like: Step outside your comfort zone. Or she’ll cram the day’s message into our conversations: Take on a new challenge. A business venture with a friend looks promising. It’s all nonsense if you ask me, but I guess, for my mom, her horoscopes give her some hope and guidance, which is what my letters are supposed to give me.
Speaking of which. After the greeting comes the actual meat of the letter: the body. My first line is always the same.
Today is going to be an amazing day, and here’s why.
Positive outlook yields positive experience. That’s the basic concept behind this letter-writing assignment.
I tried to get out of it at first. I told Dr. Sherman, “I don’t think a letter to myself is going to help much. I wouldn’t even know what to write.”
He perked up, leaning forward in his leather chair instead of casually sitting back as he usually did. “You don’t have to know. That’s the point of the exercise. To explore. For example, you could start with something like, ‘Today is going to be an amazing day, and here’s why.’ Then go from there.”
Sometimes I feel like therapy is total bullshit, and other times I think the real problem is that I can never get myself to fully buy in.
Anyway, I ended up taking his advice—verbatim. (One less thing to think about.) Because the rest of the letter is tricky. The first line was just an opening statement, and now I have to support that statement in my own words. I have to prove why today is going to be an amazing day when all evidence suggests otherwise. Every day that came before today was definitely not amazing, so why would I think today would be any different?
Truth? I don’t. So, it’s time to power up my imagination, make sure that every single molecule of creativity is wide awake and pitching in. (It takes a molecular village to write an amazing pep talk.)
Because today all you have to do is just be yourself. But also confident. That’s important. And interesting. Easy to talk to. Approachable. And don’t hide, either. Reveal yourself to others. Not in a pervy way, don’t disrobe. Just be you—the true you. Be yourself. Be true to yourself.
The true me. What does that even mean? It sounds like one of those faux-philosophical lines you’d hear in a black-and-white cologne commercial. But okay, whatever, let’s not judge. As Dr. Sherman would say, we’re here to explore.
Exploring: I have to assume this “true” me is better at life. Better at people. And less timid, too. For example, I bet he never would’ve passed up the chance to introduce himself to Zoe Murphy at the jazz band concert last year. He wouldn’t have spent all that time deciding which word best captured his feelings about her performance but also didn’t make him come off like a stalker—good, great, spectacular, luminescent, enchanting, solid—and then, after finally settling on very good, end up not speaking to her at all because he was too worried his hands were sweaty. What difference did it make that his hands were sweaty? It’s not like she would’ve demanded to shake his hand. If anything, it was probably her hands that were sweaty after all that guitar playing. Besides, my hands only got sweaty after I thought about them getting sweaty, so if anything I made them get sweaty, and obviously this “true” Evan would never do something so profoundly sad.
Great, I’m doing it again, willing my hands to get sweaty. Now I have to wipe down my keyboard with my blanket. And I just typed out csxldmrr xsmit ssdegv. And now my arm is sweating, too. The sweat will end up sitting under my cast, no air getting in, and soon my cast will take on that smell, the kind of smell I don’t want anyone at school to catch even the slightest whiff of, especially on the first day of my senior year. Damn you, fake Evan Hansen. You really are exhausting.
I reach into my bedside drawer. I already took my Lexapro this morning, but Dr. Sherman says it’s fine to take an Ativan, too, if things get really overwhelming. I swallow the Ativan down, relief on the way.
That’s the problem with writing these letters. I start off on a direct route, but I always end up taking detours, wandering into the sketchy neighborhoods of my brain where nothing good ever happens.
“So you just decided not to eat last night?”
It’s my mom, standing over me, holding the twenty-dollar bill I didn’t use.
I shut my laptop and shove it under my pillow. “I wasn’t hungry.”
“Come on, honey. You need to be able to order dinner for yourself if I’m at work. You can do it all online now. You don’t even have to talk to anyone.”
But see, that’s not true, actually. You have to talk to the delivery person when they come to the door. You have to stand there while they make change and they always pretend like they don’t have enough singles, so you’re forced to decide on the spot whether to tip less than you planned or more, and if you tip less, you know they’ll curse you under their breath as they walk away, so you just tip them extra and you end up poor.
“Sorry,” I say.
“Don’t be sorry. It’s just, this is what you’re supposed to be working on with Dr. Sherman. Talking to people. Engaging. Not avoiding.”
Didn’t I just write that exact thing in my letter? About revealing myself? Not hiding? I know all this already. I don’t need her to keep repeating it. It’s like the sweaty-hands thing; the more you acknowledge the problem, the worse it gets.
Now she’s circling my bed, arms crossed, scanning the room like it’s somehow different from when she was last in here, like there’s a new answer to the great Evan conundrum waiting on my dresser or hanging on my wall that she can finally find if she looks hard enough. Believe me, considering how much time I spend in this room, if the answer were in here, I would have spotted it already.
I slide my legs off the bed and pull on my sneakers.
“Speaking of Dr. Sherman,” she says. “I made you an appointment with him for this afternoon.”
“Today? Why? I’m seeing him next week.”
“I know,” she says, staring down at the twenty in her hands. “But I thought maybe you could use something a little sooner.”
Because I chose to skip dinner one night? I should have just pocketed the money so she wouldn’t have known, but that would be like stealing from her, and karma’s a bitch.
Maybe it’s more than just the unused twenty. Maybe I’m giving off an extra-worrisome vibe that I’m unaware of. I stand up and check myself in the mirror. I try to see what she sees. Everything looks to be in order. Shirt buttons are lined up. Hair has been tamed. I even took a shower last night. I haven’t been taking as many showers lately because it’s such a pain to have to cover my cast, first with the plastic wrap, then the shopping bag and duct tape. It’s not like I get dirty anyway. Ever since breaking my arm, I basically just sequester myself in my room all day. Besides, nobody at school will be paying attention to how I look.
There’s something else happening in the mirror that I’m only noticing now. I’m biting my nails. I’ve been biting them this whole time. Okay, the truth is I’ve been dreading this day for weeks. After the safe isolation of summer, returning to school always feels like sensory overload. Watching friends reunite with their bro hugs and high-pitched screeches. The cliques forming in corners as if all parties had been notified in advance where to meet. Bent-over laughter at what must have been the funniest joke ever told. I can navigate my way through all that because it’s familiar to me by now. It’s the stuff I can’t predict that concerns me. I barely had a handle on the way things were last year, and now there will be so much newness to absorb. New wardrobes, tech, vehicles. New hair styles, colors, lengths. New piercings and tattoos. New couples. Whole new sexual orientations and gender identities. New classes, students, teachers. So much change. And everyone just marches on like nothing’s different, but for me, every new year feels like starting from zero.
My mom is also visible in my mirror, the tassel of her personalized key chain dangling from her pocket. (Over the years, I’ve elevated many crummy gifts—mugs, pens, phone cases—by simply slapping Mom or Heidi on there somewhere). Poking around my room in her scrubs, she looks more like a forensic scientist than a nurse. A very tired forensic scientist. She was always “the young mom,” because she had me right after college, but I’m not sure the title still applies. Lately there’s this permanent fatigue in her eyes that seems less to do with how much sleep she manages to squeeze in each night and more to do with her finally starting to look her age.
“What happened to all your pins?” she says.
I turn and face the map on the wall. When I started working at Ellison State Park this summer, I got into the idea of trying to hike all the best trails in the country: Precipice Trail in Maine, Angel’s Landing in Utah, Kalalau Trail in Hawaii, Harding Icefield in Alaska. I had them all marked on my map with different colored pins. But after how the summer ended, I decided to take them all down—except one.
“I thought I’d focus on one at a time,” I say. “The first one I’m hoping to do is West Maroon Trail.”
“And that’s in Colorado?” my mom asks.
She can see it on the map, but still, she needs confirmation. I give it to her. “Yes.”
The breath she takes is painfully showy. Her shoulders practically lift up and touch her ears before they drop down even lower than they hung before. Colorado is where my dad lives. Dad is a word you have to be careful about using in our house, and the same goes for any word that makes you think of my dad, like Mark or, in this case, Colorado.
Mom turns away from the map and presents me with a face that is meant to be brave and carefree but looks exactly not those things. She’s wounded but still standing. That makes two of us. “I’ll pick you up right after school,” she says. “Have you been writing those letters Dr. Sherman wants you to do? The pep talks? You really have to keep up with those, Evan.”
I used to write a letter every single day, but over the summer I slacked off. I’m pretty sure Dr. Sherman told my mom, which is why she’s been nagging me about them lately. “I was just working on one,” I tell her, relieved to not have to lie.
“Good. Dr. Sherman is going to want to see it.”
“I know. I’ll finish it at school.”
“Those letters are important, honey. They help you build your confidence. Especially on the first day of school.”
Ah, yes. Another clue for why she thought today in particular warranted a visit to Dr. Sherman.
“I don’t want another year of you sitting home alone on your computer every Friday night. You just have to find a way to put yourself out there.”
I’m trying. It’s not like I’m not trying.
She spots something on my desk. “Hey, I know.” She pulls a Sharpie from the cup. “Why don’t you go around today and ask the other kids to sign your cast? That would be the perfect icebreaker, wouldn’t it?”
I can’t think of anything worse. That’s like panhandling for friends. Maybe I should find an emaciated puppy to sit on the corner with me, really dial up the sympathy.
It’s too late. She’s in my face. “Evan.”
“Mom, I can’t.”
She presents the Sharpie. “Seize the day. Today is the day to seize the day.”
This sounds like a horoscope. “You don’t have to add ‘today.’ ‘Seize the day’ already means ‘seize today.’”
“Whatever. You’re the wordsmith. I’m just saying, go get ’em, eh?”
Without meeting her eyes, I sigh and take the Sharpie. “Eh.”
She heads for the door, and just when I think I’m in the clear, she turns with an uneasy smile. “I’m proud of you already.”
Her smile sags a bit, and she walks off.
What am I supposed to say? She tells me she’s proud, but her eyes tell a different story. She ponders me like I’m a stain on the tub she can’t wipe clean no matter what product she uses. Proud of me? I don’t see how that’s possible. So, let’s just keep lying to each other.
It’s not like I totally mind the sessions with Dr. Sherman. Sure, our conversations are scheduled, inorganic, and typically one-sided, but there’s some comfort in sitting down and talking with another human being. You know, besides my mom, who’s so busy with work and classes that she’s hardly ever around and who never quite hears what I’m saying even when she’s listening (and is also my mom). I call my dad every once in a while, on the few occasions where I have news worth sharing. But he’s pretty busy. The problem with talking to Dr. Sherman, though, is I’m bad at it. I sit there, struggling to squeeze out even the simplest monosyllabic answers. I assume that’s why he suggested I write these letters to myself. He told me it might be a better way of extracting my feelings and could also help me learn to be a little easier on myself, but I’m pretty sure it makes things easier for him, too.
I open my computer and read what I’ve written so far.
Dear Evan Hansen,
Sometimes these letters do the opposite of what they’re intended to do. They’re supposed to keep my glass half full, but they also remind me that I’m not like everyone else. No one else at my school has an assignment from their therapist. No one else even has a therapist, probably. They don’t snack on Ativan. They don’t shift and fidget when people come too close to them, or talk to them, or even look at them. And they definitely don’t make their mother’s eyes well up with tears when they’re just sitting there not doing anything.
I don’t need reminding. I know I’m not right. Believe me, I know.
Today is going to be an amazing day.
Maybe—if I just stay here in my bedroom, then it might actually come true.
Just be yourself.
Yeah. Sure. Okay.
I’m finished at my locker, but I’m still standing here, pretending to look for something. There’s too much time before the bell rings, and if I shut my locker now, I’ll be forced to hang around. I’m awful at hanging around. Hanging around requires confidence and the right clothing and a bold but casual stance.
Robbie Oxman (aka Rox) is a master hanger-arounder, always whipping his hair out of his face and keeping his legs shoulder-distance apart. He even knows what to do with his hands: four fingers inside his jean pockets and thumbs through his belt loops. Brilliant.
I want to do what Dr. Sherman and my mother keep asking me to do—engage—but it’s not in my DNA. When I walked onto the bus this morning, everyone was either talking to their friends or staring down at their phones. What am I supposed to do? Fact: I once did a search for “how to make friends” and I clicked on one of the videos that came up and I swear I didn’t realize until the very end that I was watching a car commercial.
That’s why I prefer to keep my back to everything. Unfortunately, I have to head to class now.
I shut my locker and command my body to rotate exactly 180 degrees. I keep my head low enough to avoid eye contact but high enough to see where I’m going. Kayla Mitchell is showing off her Invisalign to Freddie Lin. (I could ask one of them to sign my cast, but no offense, I don’t need signatures from kids who register as low as I do on the relevance meter.) I pass by The Twins (not actually related; they just dress alike) and the Russian Spy. (At least I don’t have a nickname—that I know of.) Vanessa Wilton is talking on the phone, probably to her agent. (She’s been in local commercials.) Up ahead, two jocks are literally wrestling on the ground. And there’s Rox outside Mr. Bailey’s class. He’s got one thumb in his belt loop and the other hand on Kristen Caballero’s waist. Last I heard, Kristen was with Mike Miller, but he graduated last year. On to the next, I see. They’re making out now. It’s very wet. Don’t stare.
I make a pit stop at the water fountain. I’ve already forgotten the plan: Let people see you. How am I supposed to do that? Carry around sparklers? Hand out free condoms? I’m just not the seize-the-day type.
Over the running water, I hear a voice. I think the voice could possibly be talking to me. I stop drinking. There is indeed a person standing next to me. Her name is Alana Beck.
“How was your summer?” she says.
Alana sat in front of me in precalc last year, but we never spoke. Are we speaking now? I’m not convinced. “My summer?”
“Mine was productive,” Alana says. “I did three internships and ninety hours of community service. I know, wow.”
“Yeah. That’s, wow. That’s—”
“Even though I was so busy, I still made some great friends. Or, well, acquaintances, more like. There was this girl named Clarissa, or Ca-rissa—I couldn’t hear her that well. And then Bryan with a y. And my adviser at National Black Women’s Leadership Training Council, Miss P. And also…”
The only time I heard Alana’s voice last year was when she was asking or answering questions, which she’d do incessantly. Mr. Swathchild would ignore her hand at first until he realized it was the only hand up and he had no choice but to call on her—again. She’s got a bravado I’ll never have, not to mention a very committed smile, but in another way Alana Beck and I have a lot in common. Even with her class participation and her gigantic backpack always slamming into people, she goes around this school the same way I do: unnoticed.
Seize the day, Mom says. Fine, here goes. I lift my cast up. “Do you maybe want to—”
“Oh my god,” Alana says. “What happened to your arm?”
I unzip my backpack and dig around for my Sharpie. “I broke it. I was—”
“Oh, really? My grandma broke her hip getting into the bathtub in July. That was the beginning of the end, the doctors said. Because then she died.”
“Oh… that’s terrible.”
“I know, right?” she says, her smile never wavering. “Happy first day!”
She turns and her backpack knocks the Sharpie out of my hand. I bend down to pick it up, and when I’m upright again, Alana is gone and Jared Kleinman is in her place.
“Is it weird to be the first person in history to break their arm from jerking off too much, or do you consider that an honor?” Jared says much too loudly. “Paint me the picture. You’re in your bedroom. Lights off. Smooth jazz in the background. You’ve got Zoe Murphy’s Instagram up on your weird, off-brand phone.”
Jared and I have a history. His mother sells real estate. She’s the one who found my mom and me a new place to live after my dad left. For a few years there, the Kleinmans would have us at their swim club in the summertime, and we’d go to their house for dinner, once for Rosh Hashanah. I even went to Jared’s bar mitzvah. “Do you want to know what really happened?” I ask.
“Not really,” Jared says.
Something’s driving me to say it, to share it with someone, maybe just to set the record straight. No, I was not stalking Zoe Murphy’s Instagram. Not on this particular occasion. “What happened is, I was climbing a tree and I fell.”
“You fell out of a tree? What are you, like, an acorn?”
“You know how I was working as an apprentice park ranger this summer?”
“No. Why would I know that?”
“Well, anyway, I’m sort of a tree expert now. Not to brag. But I saw this incredible forty-foot-tall oak tree and I started climbing it and then I just…”
“Fell?” Jared says.
“Yeah, except it’s a funny story, because there was this solid ten minutes after I fell when I was just lying there on the ground, waiting for someone to come get me. ‘Any second now,’ I kept saying to myself. ‘Any second now, here they come.’”
“No. Nobody came. That’s what’s so funny.”
He looks embarrassed for me. But hey, I’m in on the joke. I know how pathetic it sounds that I waited there on the ground for someone to come and help me. I’m trying to have a laugh at my own inadequacy, but as usual, my delivery is way off. There’s a lot going on in my head right now. Grandmothers are passing away and I’ve got dark spots on my shirt from the fountain spraying everywhere, and I still haven’t made it to first period, where I’ll have to answer to “Mark” for at least forty-five minutes.
This is what I get for trying to have a conversation with Jared Kleinman, who once laughed during a lesson on the Holocaust. He swore he was laughing at something unrelated to the horrific black-and-white photos that the rest of us were gasping at, and I believe him, I guess, but still, I’m pretty sure the guy doesn’t have a conscience.
Jared hasn’t walked away yet, so I ask a question that I stole straight from Alana Beck’s mouth. “How was your summer?”
“Well, my bunk dominated in capture the flag and I got to second-base-below-the-bra with this girl from Israel who’s going to, like, be in the army. So, yeah, does that answer your question?”
“Actually.” The Sharpie is still in my hand. I don’t know why I’m even bothering with this cast-signing thing, but here I go anyway. “Do you want to sign my cast?”
He laughs. He laughs right in my face. “Why are you asking me?”
“I don’t know. Because we’re friends?”
“We’re family friends,” Jared says. “That’s a whole different thing and you know it.”
Is it? I’ve played video games on Jared’s basement couch. I even changed out of my bathing suit in front of him. He’s the one who informed me that it’s not normal to wear your underwear under your bathing suit. Fine, we don’t hang out like that anymore, and we only ever spent time together with our families around, but those memories still count for something, right? A family friend is still a friend, technically.
“Tell your mom to tell my mom I was nice to you or else my parents won’t pay for my car insurance,” Jared says, and walks away.
Jared is a dick, but he’s my dick—I mean, no, that’s not what I mean, not like that. I just mean that he’s not the worst ever. He acts like he’s the shit, but he’s not totally convincing. His tortoiseshell glasses and beach-bum shirts don’t quite fit him right, and the oversize headphones he keeps around his neck aren’t even plugged in. That being said, his whole look is far better than I could pull off.
I make it to class just as the bell rings and find a seat. (I prefer to be in the row closest to the door at the back of the room, out of sight and near the exit.) As I’m getting situated, I feel a slight sense of accomplishment. No names yet on my cast, but I’ve already interacted with more people than I did the entire first month of school last year. How’s that for seizing the day?
Who knows? Maybe this will be an amazing day after all.
- On Sale
- Aug 24, 2021
- Page Count
- 368 pages
About the Authors
Val Emmich is a writer, singer-songwriter, and actor. He has had recurring roles on Vinyl and Ugly Betty as well as a memorable guest role as Liz Lemon’s coffee-boy fling, Jamie, on 30 Rock. His debut novel, The Reminders, was a B&N Discover selection that Library Journal called “quirky, touching and addictive.” Emmich lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, with his wife and their two children.
Steven Levenson is the Tony Award-winning playwright of Dear Evan Hansen. Other plays include Days of Rage, If I Forget, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, and The Language of Trees. In television, he worked for three seasons as a writer and producer on Showtime’s Masters of Sex. Upcoming projects include the limited series Fosse/Verdon (FX) and the film adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s tick, tick…boom!
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are the Oscar®, Grammy, Tony, and Golden Globe-winning songwriting team behind the Broadway musicals Dear Evan Hansen and A Christmas Story, The Musical. Their film projects include: The Greatest Showman, La La Land, and Trolls, as well as the upcoming live-action musicals Snow White and Aladdin and original animated musical Foster.
FROM NOVL NATION
“I found myself being able to connect more with the characters in this book more than I ever could from the musical. It dealt with so many issues that many of us experience in our lives.”
—Kathleen, Read Forever More
“I devoured this book quite fast. It was such a warm hearted light read with really big topics and a heart breaking story. The story, the plot, the characters were all so amazing and I loved every part of it. By the ending I found myself crying so hard and couldn’t stop.”
—Elizabeth, Throne of Shattered Books
“While it may have been a fast story to get through, it was not easy. There are very, very tough topics covered: suicide, bullying, lying, and more. Those are never easy to read but they cannot be easy to write about either.”
—Sara, A Gingerly Review
“The book touches on the topic of social media and its impact, and also how people’s attention span on subjects can change so quickly and how that seems wrong like when the subject of a person’s death is dismissed for the next, newest thing, which rang so true for events in real life.”