Happy Sunday, bookish friends!
Today I am reviewing a couple of the books I’ve read recently! Both books are in fact novelisations of pre-existing stories that have been told in another format (the first being the novelisation of a musical, and the second the novelisation of a musical!) I was going to call these ‘mini reviews’, but I realised that what I call ‘mini’ is not actually all that mini… I tend to get carried away with my thoughts haha. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy these ‘mid-length reviews’ of two books I have recently enjoyed!
Giant Days by Non Pratt
Giant Days is the novelisation of the comic book series of the same name by John Allison. I haven’t read the graphic novels so I am not really sure how the two formats compare, but I have seen quite a few Goodreads reviews from fans of the comics who have been disappointed by this novelisation. Having no comparison, I actually really enjoyed the novel, although I had some issues with it.
The story essentially follows three friends – Susan, Esther and Daisy – in their first term of university. Each girl has their own storyline: Susan is trying to avoid a boy from home whom she has some *history* with, Esther is trying to befriend a goth girl from her course whom she idolises but who isn’t actually very nice, and Daisy has joined a yoga society which may or may not be a cult! Although there are storylines, this book didn’t really feel like it had a plot. It’s a slice of life kind of story, which is okay as I enjoyed reading about the lives of these girls, but I can see why this type of story probably works better as a graphic novel.
I found this book very funny, and I really enjoyed all three of the characters. That being said, these characters in some ways felt like caricatures. They were all very quirky, and their dialogue was whip smart, but they didn’t feel all that much like real people. I felt like they had been written to be entertaining first and foremost, and that stopped me from connecting deeply with any of them. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as their antics were very amusing, but it meant that overall I was purely entertained by the novel, rather than wowed by it.
Nevertheless, I did think the novel covered some important topics relating to university life, namely the ups and downs of choosing and making new friends, finding somewhere you belong, and trying to forge a new path for yourself at university. Although it explores these topics through far-fetched, comedic storylines, I still found there was wisdom to be drawn from them.
I’d love to give the comics a try at some point, so if you have read them, please do let me know what you thought of them!
Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich
(Trigger warnings: anxiety, depression, suicide)
Dear Evan Hansen is the novelisation of a musical of the same name. I’ve never watched the musical Dear Evan Hansen, but I have listened to the soundtrack a lot, and I absolutely adore the songs and their message.
The story follows a boy named Evan Hansen who has severe anxiety. His therapist asks him to write a letter to himself every day, beginning with the words ‘Dear Evan Hansen’. When a boy called Connor gets hold of one of Evan’s letters, and later commits suicide, Evan’s letter is found with Connor, and Connor’s parents wrongly assume that Connor wrote the letter to Evan, and that they were best friends. Anxious, confused and lonely, and not wanting to upset Connor’s parents, Evan finds himself going along with the lie. He finds himself drawn into the fold of this grieving family, feeling like he belongs somewhere for the first time in his life. And, as he begins to feel a connection to this boy he never knew, Evan decides to start ‘The Connor Project’, a movement designed to remember his ‘friend’, and reassure others who feel alone that they are not.
I have a huge emotional connection to the soundtrack, but I didn’t find the novelisation had quite the same impact on me. There are some emotionally empowering and emotionally devastating songs in the musical that honestly give me chills, and the message that everyone deserves to be remembered and recognised, and that nobody deserves to be alone and forgotten is a big theme. This message was definitely in the book, but I didn’t feel it came across as strongly as it does in the musical. It didn’t stir me up in quite the same way. Nevertheless, there were some things that got me, especially the representation of Evan’s anxiety, loneliness, and struggles to fit in – I thought they were very relatable, well-written, and at times heartbreaking. I also found a particular scene between Evan and his mum extremely moving, and it made me cry, just as its musical equivalent did.
It’s a hard story to ‘enjoy’, because you spend a large part of the reading experience feeling uncomfortable and conflicted. Obviously what Evan does is very wrong, and the more time he spends with Connor’s family, and the deeper he gets into the lie, the more nauseous you feel about what he is doing. Yet at the same time, you also find yourself feeling desperately sorry for Evan. It’s heartbreaking when he starts to feel this connection to Connor as somebody he perhaps really could have been friends with, but now never will. He’s so lonely, and the only friend he has is essentially imaginary (as he never really knew Connor), and that just made me want to comfort him, despite how problematic his actions were becoming.
I felt that the ending of the story was a bit rushed, and I wish that the fall out was explored in more depth, but I thought the very ending hit the right emotional notes, and I think overall it was a good, if imperfect, book, which has earned a place in my heart. The story is one that makes me realise I am not alone, and helps me towards starting to accept myself, especially when told in its musical format. I definitely recommend listening to the soundtrack before you read this book, as I think you will get even more from it if you do. I would love to see the musical on stage someday!
Have you read either of these books, or consumed either of these stories in their other formats? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!
Lots of literary love, Jess! xxx