I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Also by this author: Saint Anything, What Happened to Goodbye, Along for the Ride, Lock and Key, Dreamland, Once and for All, The Rest of the Story
Published by Penguin on 2006
Genres: Contemporary, Family, Friendship, Love & Romance, Music, Siblings, Tough Topics, Young Adult
Pages: 371 •Format: Paperback •Goodreads
To find the truth you’ve got to be willing to hear it. When she’s modeling, Annabel is the picture of perfection. But her real life is far from perfect. Fortunately, she’s got Owen. He’s intense, music-obsessed, and dedicated to always telling the truth. And most of all, he’s determined to make Annabel happy...
*Thank you so much to Penguin Teen for the review copy!
I’m no stranger to Sarah Dessen novels. Back in my much younger teen years, I devoured Sarah’s first seven novels, chronically checking them out from my local library every summer. The release of Saint Anything had me nostalgic for Sarah’s quietly profound contemporaries, and within one week I aquired three of her novels, fully intending to make my way through as many as possible this summer.
It’s probably been 8+ years since I had read Just Listen, long before I started blogging, and my main memories of the book were that 1) I adored it and 2) The glass house. Upon my reread, I was thrilled to discover it held the same magic it did when I was younger and I enjoyed it even more a second time around (I bumped it from my original 4 star rating to a 5 star rating).
Just Listen focuses on Annabel, a junior in high school and local model who can be summed up in one word: nice. The book begins at the beginning of the school year after a falling out the previous spring with practically all of her friends, and the book follows Annabel as the silence of her social isolation starts to unravel the truth about what happened. She meets Owen, a loner more by choice than by consequence, and his obsession with listening, whether it be to music or the truth, forces Annabel to not only fill her life with sound again, but confront those unbearable moments of silence with her own truth that she’s buried. Paralleled with Annabel’s journey is that of her sister Whitney, home trying to recover from a severe eating disorder. Sarah weaves both sisters’ tragedies and triumphs into a seamless narrative.
I feel like reading it in my twenties made it resonate even more with me, as I have more life experience under my belt and could find different aspects of each of the three sisters I could relate too. I read with older and more aware eyes the toxic friendships that Annabel had formed, and her quiet strength in finally acknowledging her role in them. I watched as “kindness” (the term most used by others to describe Annabel) both endeared and endangered Annabel throughout the novel. I applauded Owen’s uncomfortable, but effective honesty. Perhaps what I valued most in this novel, rereading it post-college rather than in the middle of the hot mess that is high school for most, is those quiet moments of reflection that Sarah is so good at, that evoke feelings so profound precisely because they resonate on such a quiet, personal level. Whether it was Annabel looking into the eyes of a former friend and having the strength to admit to herself what happened, or Whitney telling a simple story in a coffee shop, the moments that pack the most emotional punch are some of the quietest in the plot, which made me feel the revelations on a more personal level, as if the characters were revealing these moments to me and me only.
“There comes a time when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you’d better learn the sound of it. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying.”
Sarah also gives peripheral peaks into the lives of secondary characters that leave me craving to know more. More about Sophie’s anger, Clarke’s confidence, Whitney’s body image. Annabel is the connecting thread between all of the secondary characters, but each of them tugs at the reader with their own stories that fall behind Annabel’s plot but feel as though they truly exist-and matter- despite never being fully fleshed out in the pages of Sarah’s book. In true Sarah Dessen fashion, she makes me as enamored (maybe even more so) with her supporting cast as she does with her protagonist.
Overall: Just Listen is, appropriately, a quiet book. It deals with so many issues (eating disorders, anger management, assault, modeling, body image, bullying, etc) without using them as a crutch to carry along the plot; rather they function quietly to build a story that is profound without screaming about its importance. It’s well balanced in handling as many issues as it tackles, and weaves together several deeper stories that all coincide with Annabel as the catalyst. Despite it being a back list release (it’s almost ten years old) it never feels dated, and is timeless in the issues it addresses and the stories it seeks to tell. Just Listen is at the top of my list of YA contemporaries that I would recommend to anyone, because the themes are so varied and yet so universal at the same time: Sometimes the hardest, and most important, person to stop and really listen to is yourself.
Book Buddies Ask:
“Book Buddies Ask” is a feature I do with my Book Buddy Lauren from Bookmarklit! While we do an in-depth buddy read every-other month, we decided it would be fun to ask fun little questions for other books we read together more casually! These questions are inspired by fun little elements from the book!
What is a musical group/artist that a friend or significant other got you into that you had never previously discovered?
My boyfriend and I have very different tastes in music (he’s a great sport about it though!) and though I tend to stick to what I like he did introduce me to a band I quiet enjoy: Phoenix. I have their Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix album and it’s alternative enough for him and pop-ish enough for me that we can both listen to it and enjoy it! (Lisztomania is impossible not to sing along with).
Also Reviewed By This Author:
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Goodreads Challenge
- Reread Challenge