Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Review: JUST LISTEN by Sarah Dessen

Annabel, according to the department store commercial she shot months ago: The Girl Who Has Everything. Cheerleader, homecoming queen, great student with tons of friends.

Annabel, in reality: the girl who sits alone at lunch. Her parents are preoccupied with her sister’s eating disorder, so Annabel doesn’t want to burden them what really happened at that party over the summer, the one that ended her friendship with Sophie. So she lies by omission, insisting she’s fine, everything’s fine.  

Then Annabel meets Owen, the loner who supposedly got arrested for beating up a guy last year. He’s always listening to his iPod and has his own radio show, where he plays the strangest assortment of music (including sea shanties and techno. LOTS of techno). Owen always tells the truth, which is mind-blowing to Annabel, the girl who lies to protect the feelings of others. Through her new friendship with Owen, Annabel learns to voice her opinions (first, by telling him what she really thinks of the music he plays on his radio show, song by song) and realizes people will not crumple to pieces when she tells the truth.

I read JUST LISTEN years ago and enjoyed it, but after this reread I appreciate it even more. Like Sarah Dessen’s other books, this one has a strong focus on family. Annabel’s sisters, Kirsten and Whitney, are well-written, and I was immediately invested in their tumultuous relationship. Maybe because I’m closer to their age now than I was the first time I read it, I was able to appreciate them even more as characters. Kirsten warned her family about Whitney’s troublesome eating habits, but the issue is brushed aside until Whitney is finally hospitalized for her disorder. Annabel’s relationship with Whitney felt real to me, too. Annabel tiptoes around her sister, who has just moved back home to begin her recovery. Slowly but surely, though, they begin to find common ground.

The heart of the book is the idea of listening (obviously, it’s the title). But it’s not just about listening to music or making others hear you. It’s about listening to yourself. Annabel grows so much as a person through this story, and it was wonderful to watch.

I’m rereading a bunch of Sarah Dessen’s books in celebration of her new book, SAINT ANYTHING, which will be released on May 5th. I talk a lot about Sarah on this blog but haven’t reviewed all her books yet, so I might share my thoughts about them as the month goes on. 

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