Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich


Dear Evan Hansen
by Val Emmich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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 grief over 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’ve listened to the Dear Evan Hansen broadway soundtrack several times a week for the last year so when I heard it was being released as a YA novel I was desperate to get my hands on it. It was the only ARC at YALC I was desperate to go home with and sadly I didn’t manage to win the raffle. I was lucky enough however to be granted access via Netgalley AND my husband bought me a copy of the final published book (can you tell I went on about it a bit?!)

I find this story really sad. My heart hurts for Evan and the struggles he faces and the situations he gets himself into. Reading the book was more emotional than the musical because the novel format allows you to delve further into Evan’s brain and really expand on the emotions and issues he experiences. This also makes the book far heavier than the musical as there are no lighthearted catchy tunes to raise the mood. With no light relief the book is a really intense reading experience which is incredibly immersive.

The author’s writing is captivating and very believable. I imagine it was extremely hard to write this story without making it sound preachy- how can Evan learn his lesson without making it sound like a cheesy cautionary tale?
The authors managed to tell the story with compassion and through it all Evan remains a sympathetic, lovable character.

I recommend curling up with this book with the soundtrack on in the background. You can never have too much Dear Evan Hansen!

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The Truth and Lies of Ella Black

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was provided an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in return for an honest review.

I’m not sure what I expected before I picked up this book but whatever I thought I was going to get, this wasn’t it. From the beginning of the book I felt like I was wrong-footed and that feeling didn’t really go away until I read the last page.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black follows a teenage girl with a dark secret as her parents one day whisk her away on a supposed holiday of a lifetime in an attempt to keep their own dark secret hidden. It’s actually very hard to discuss the plot of this book without spoilers as so much of the story revolved around the unknown, with secrets slowly being revealed to the reader as the plot progresses.

What I will say is I found something lacking with this book. On the surface the plot is gripping but the reading experience didn’t quite match up to the expectation I had for this book. I badly wanted the pace to pick up but I found myself almost becoming bored in between sections where secrets were being revealed and action was happening. None of the characters were likeable, which I feel could have been purposeful, but more than that they often didn’t seem like realistic people. Their speech and behaviour wasn’t fully fleshed out and I didn’t feel any kind of strong connection to them at all which always lessens my enjoyment of a book. If I’m not going to like a character, I at least want to dislike them. Feeling nothing about them leaves me disinterested.

My biggest issue with the book is Ella’s love interest plot. It seemed so unbelievable that she would meet her dream boy in the way she did and have him fall head over heels in love with her without so much as a word being uttered that I kept expecting him to be part of the bigger storyline. I was hoping he would turn out to not be as he seemed and have more sinister intentions. In the end, I felt his inclusion in the story just served to pad out the plot and lengthen the book unnecessarily.

Although my review may seem largely negative I have to say that I did read this book very quickly and found that I didn’t want to put it down. I did want to get to the climax and find out what was going to happen and overall I was satisfied with the ending. I do think it would have benefitted from developing the characters somewhat more, and focusing less on describing Ella running around Rio and hiding from everyone and more on her discovering the details of her parent’s secret as that was the part of the plot that was really gripping.

I think I would recommend this book to friends in the future, for the fact that the unfolding mystery is so original and it is a compelling depiction of mental health problems but my recommendation would come with caveats.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black is published 11th January 2018.

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Leila has lived a sheltered life, centred around an unhealthy co-dependent relationship with her mother. After her mother dies, she is left alone, completely unequipped to be in charge of her life. She soon finds comfort in spending as much time online as possible, first in role playing games, and then in forums chatting to like minded people. It is through a forum she is hand-picked and groomed to be the perfect person to take on the virtual identity of Tess, who wants nothing more than to disappear without causing alarm to her family and friends. Naive Leila is only too happy to help, and soon finds herself in way over her head.

I found the premise of this book really interesting so I was very much looking forward to reading it. However, as interesting as the plot seemed, I was left largely dissatisfied on finishing the story. I spent a lot of the story waiting for it to really kick start, and it never really did.

I found Leila as a character very confusing. It’s never explained in the book why she is the way she is- whether he has some kind of autism, a learning disability or whether she is simply a product of her mother’s over protection. Without this information I found it tricky to know how I should be feeling about her, and her actions.

On the other hand, Tess was a character who was described in so much detail one would assume she would appear to the reader larger than life. Unfortunately, I just found her unrealistic, and unbelievable. I know quite a bit about mental health, and depression, and the portrayal of Tess just didn’t support the plot of the story for me.

I had no problem finishing the story, it moved along at a good pace and I was interested to know what happened, however I think if I’d have read this book in separate sittings rather than all in one go I might have struggled to maintain my interest. I was also waiting for there to be a twist at the end, but the story played itself out as the reader would expect. There were no great surprises, for me at least, and the ambiguity of parts of the story which never got finally addressed along with the superfluous nature of some of the characters we are introduced to left me a tad disappointed.

Kiss Me First is a fine story, but if you’re looking for a thrilling psychological suspense novel this will probably not be your best choice.

This review was first published on Nudge-books.com and Goodreads on 4th March 2014.

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