The 2016 Broadway hit and Tony Award-winning musical “Dear Evan Hansen” is now a young adult novel. The musical, and now the book, track the story of a misfit, woebegone high school senior — Evan Hansen — who gets caught in a lie about being the best friend of a classmate he hardly knew who takes his own life.
Here & Now‘s Robin Young speaks to the show’s creators Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Steven Levenson, as well as Val Emmich (@ValEmmich), who wrote the novel with Pasek (@benjpasek), Paul (@heyitsjustin) and Levenson (@Steven_Levenson).
by Sara Farizan
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 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.
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.
Courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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