Book: Just Listen

Just ListenJust Listen
Sarah Dessen
2006 (Viking/Penguin)

Annabel is the sort of girl who hates confrontation. She is quiet and generally keeps her head down. Her family is full of drama and her social life has fallen apart because her best friend has dropped her because of events from a few months back. At the beginning of the school year she feels incredibly alone. Enter Owen, a boy who is no stranger to confrontation and insists on always telling the truth. He is obsessed with music of all kinds and when he and Annabel begin to be friends, he quickly begins to share his love of music with her. Annabel is thrilled to have such a good friend, but she ultimately has to save herself.

This book is extremely character driven. Very little action occurs throughout the book, but a lot happens. I was initially very put off by the frequent long flashbacks that seemed to drive the book (it felt like the story hadn’t even started until the fifth chapter), but by the end I appreciated all the information. I think that all the flashbacks were necessary, but I think Dessen probably could have spaced them out differently and achieved a slightly more balanced feel to the book. The fact the characters in this book were so strong is really what made it work. I wanted to know more about Owen every time Annabel encountered him, but since the story was from Annabel’s point of view I was restricted to what she knew. Annabel herself was interesting. I can’t say that I always liked her, but I think that’s part of why she worked for this particular story. I would have had a hard time swallowing this story if the main character hadn’t been believable, which was tricky with this plot, but Dessen pulled it off beautifully. I may have been horrified by Annabel’s actions sometimes and just wanted to sit her down and lecture her about what she should have done, but I never disbelieved that she would have acted exactly the way she did.

It’s hard not to see the obvious parallel between the plot of this book and the plot of Speak, but they are fundamentally very different. Both looked at similar situations in believable ways where the characters acted very differently. I wouldn’t say that this is a book I wish every high schooler would read, although I’m tempted to say that about Speak sometimes, because the story here didn’t make it as necessary a story to have read. I do think that it was great, strong story and I could absolutely see it being one that some women find hauntingly close to home, the very fact of which is important for the rest of us to understand. This was well written and well presented, but it just didn’t have the timeless, necessary feel that a required read usually does. Nevertheless, I’m quite glad that someone wrote this story.

This is a powerful, enjoyable book. It deals with several tough topics in a really well-crafted story. I wish the structure had been a little different so that it was easier to get into, but that seems like a small complaint for such a good book. I would absolutely read other books by Sarah Dessen and I would unquestionably recommend this book. It was a good read and told a story that I think needs telling. I hope that it gets the readership that it deserves!

- Publisher’s Description

- Readergirlz issue 14 (March 2008)

- Sarah Dessen’s Website

- Buy it from Amazon

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