Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Just Listen is my first Young Adult novel by Sarah Dessen, although I was certainly aware of her name. She’s always on Best Books for Young Adults lists and so I figured that, as a teacher of young adults, I should at least see what all the fuss was about.

It also gave Mallory and I another opportunity to share a book. She read this one a couple weeks ago, but I was in the middle of something else which I had to finish first.

I’ll let Mallory start by telling you a little bit about the novel.

Mallory: This book is about a model named Annabel Greene.  She’s the youngest of three girls and both of her older sisters are models, too. Even though on the outside it would seem as though Annabel’s got it all (the looks, the best friend, the beautiful house, basically a charmed life) she’s actually going through some pretty serious things. For one thing, her middle sister, Whitney, has an eating disorder that weighs down the whole family. Secondly, Annabel’s best friend is no longer speaking to her. In fact, no one is speaking to her. This is a book about how Annabel learns how to express her true feelings about things.

Christie: That’s a good summary of what the book’s about.  One of the book’s main points is about how appearances can be deceiving. Annabel often comments about the glass house her architect father has built and how people slow down when they drive by. What they might see is a family sitting down together to dinner, but Annabel knows that it’s much more complicated than that.

Did you like the book?

Mallory: Yes, I liked the book. I’ve read a couple of books before this one about eating disorders. They’re pretty scary, but this one seemed easier to read. Instead of describing everything Whitney does to deprive herself of food, it explains how even though she’s beautiful, she’s still struggling with her appearance. I really liked that part of the book. What about you?

Christie: Well, what I liked was that Whitney’s struggles were only one part of the book. What I liked was how Annabel struggled to make her own voice heard. Something horrible has happened to her (something I found sort of easy to guess at), but she isn’t able to say anything. Instead, she lets her former best friend, Sophie, treat her badly.  It isn’t until Owen, the school’s misunderstood ‘thug’ (by reputation only) befriends her, that she allows herself to be more assertive.

Mallory: I agree. Owen seemed to open up something that Annabel didn’t even know was inside of her. Even though she and Owen only talked about music, she was allowed to express her opinion (mostly about her hate of techno) without any repercussions. And I too predicted the reason for the fallout  between Annabel and Sophie. But I knew all along that Annabel was the real victim, not Sophie. She just didn’t know how to explain the truth.

Christie: There are lots of novels out there that deal with these subjects: eating disorders, failed friendship, parents who don’t understand their kids (although I have to say that the adults in this novel were decent)…what do you think Dessen did well in Just Listen?

Mallory: The main thing that I loved about Just Listen is the way Dessen built up her character’s personalites. By the end of the book I knew that Annabel was a complicated person on the inside, Owen was extremely misunderstood, and Sophie was crazy- basically a wildchid. She made it so clear who each one of these people were. It makes a book so much more enjoyable when you feel like you know the characters. Like they’re your friends.

Christie: I agree. I think Annabel’s voice was well done here. And I have to admit that I fell in love with Owen from the very beginning. I guess I have a soft spot for big, hulking, slightly off-center guys.

Mallory:  I must say that I also knew that Owen wasn’t a ‘thug’ or anyhing that people had said at the start. I always try to see the character in a couple different ways before really deciding if they’re the good guy or the bad guy in a book. I didn’t really have to do this with Owen. He was the quiet, music-lover that was stereotyped for his height and tough persona. Just by Dessen’s description I could tell that Owen was protective, but gentle. And I loved his lttle sister from the very moment her name was mentioned. Mallory. That says it all.

Christie: So – overall..would you recommend this book?

 Mallory: One of my friends is a Sarah Dessen fan and she raved about this book when she saw me reading it at school. She pulled out Dessen’s novel Someone Like You and said “You must read this when you’re done.” I think she basically recommended it for me. But I would like to add that if you can sympathize with the characters in this book, and the situations that they’re in, you’ll love it. It has a moral, it teaches a lesson, and it’s a great read for young adults. I’d definitely say that if you’ve never heard of Sarah Dessen you need to read this book- and check out her other books as well. They look very promising. 

Christie: I don’t disagree. I think she’s topical. The writing is generally crisp. The characters are well drawn. Young adults could do far worse. 

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