Senior Evan Hansen is starting his last year at school with a broken arm gotten from falling a great distance out of a tree while working his summer job as an assistant park ranger. Not that anyone will notice, because Evan is pretty much invisible to the other students, passing through hallways, classes and particularly the lunchroom without acknowledgement or a hint of recognition. This is because he is paralyzed by inaction, not knowing how to approach people or what to say to them to gain entry to that normal high school society that he (and everyone that age) craves. Dr. Sherman, his therapist, has such trouble getting him to open up in their private sessions that he asks Evan to write a letter to himself to bring with him each time that begins with “Today is going to be an amazing day, and here is why!” “Positive outlook brings positive outcome,” proclaims Sherman, but so far nothing’s happening along that line, probably because Evan’s not buying into it.
As he heads off to school one morning, his mom hands him a Sharpie and challenges him to find at least one person to sign his cast. This is a serious challenge since he literally has no friends at school to speak of, except for Jared Kleinman, a “friend” only because their two families were friends for a while. When even Jared dismisses the idea as dorky, Evan just about gives up on the cast-signing until he unexpectedly runs into “school-shooter misfit type” Connor Murphy, who notices the blank cast and signs it in huge letters, saying that now they can both pretend they have friends. Then he discovers a letter Evan has just written to himself about Connor’s sister, Zoe. Suspecting a trap, Connor furiously stalks off, letter in hand. The next Evan hears, Connor has killed himself, his parents have discovered the letter they think Connor has written and addressed to Evan, and an inescapable tide of events is set in motion that changes the lives not just of Evan but of families, students and the global social-network community.
Here’s a book that will resonate with people everywhere who are struggling to fit into society in some kind of positive, fulfilling way that doesn’t require them to sacrifice their true identities. To me, its themes of dawning self-awareness, redemption and forgiveness echo those we find in Victor Hugo’s works. For those librarians who have to worry about offensive language, there is a fair amount of the usual words tagged by reviewers on this site plus some religious profanity. Some sexual references are made but they are slight. Connor’s gay relationship with Miguel is made clear but not explicitly so. All that being said, this is a book that should be in every library.
Categories: Books We Recommend, Bullying, Controversial YA Topics, Death and Grieving, Depression, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, Grief, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Political Activism, Rock Musicians, Social Media, Suicide