Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
April 6, 2006; Viking Juvenile
Last year, Annabel was "the girl who has everything" — at least that's the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf's Department Store. This year, she's the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong. Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen's help,maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.
Just Listen was my first Sarah Dessen novel. I've been meaning to read her books for years and never got around to it until now. I can't believe I missed all this wonderfulness! How I adored Just Listen. Sarah Dessen is a genius of contemporary YA romance.
Truth. You can whittle the theme of Just Listen down to that one word. The importance of being truthful to your friends and family. But most of all, the importance of being true to yourself.
Annabel Greene lives a perfect lie. As a model and television commercial actress, she's beautiful, carefree, and full of smiles. In reality, Annabel is haunted - by a recent event, by her family's issues, and by her inability to stand up for herself.
Enter cute boy stage right. Owen seems like a bad boy. Sullen, perpetually angry, and never without his headphones - Owen is not the boy you'd want to bring home to your parents. Except that he is...He is incredibly sweet, insightful, and honest. Most of all, honest. I loved how passionate Owen was about music and how eager he was to share his passion with Annabel. I loved how he accepted Annabel without hesitation, despite her status as a social leper and her lack of musical appreciation. I loved how he challenged Annabel to be the person she was meant to be. Owen is shining star in a crowded field of YA love interests.
Another highlight of Just Listen is the family element. Books with strong family plot arcs are rare in YA. Annabel's parents and sisters were crucial characters in this story. Annabel's entire family lives a lie. They're falling apart but refusing to admit it. Only when Whitney's (Annabel's sister) eating disorder advances close to a point of no return are they even willing to acknowledge that there's a problem. From that point, we have a slow healing process throughout the book. I loved seeing how Whitney progressed in her recovery from her eating disorder. It felt real - neither too fast nor too slow. Dessen also did a great job of highlighting each family member's flaws and moved the plot in a way that allowed each person to improve.
Just Listen is a delightful book. It has everything that I want in a contemporary YA novel. Romance of course. But also strong plot arcs that take the story beyond a simple romance. Family, friends, self-discovery. Everything in the story is cleaned up by the end in a way that could potentially happen. The book never felt fake. I will definitely be reading more by Sarah Dessen.