Overall Impression: This book ripped my heart up into pieces and then put it back together again.
I’ve read and enjoyed three of Sarah Dessen’s novels in the past, Lock and Key, The Truth About Forever and Dreamland but Just Listen has to be my favourite so far. I’ve always admired the way she skillfully tackles a serious subject while remaining accessible and lighthearted. That’s why when I did my annual book swap with one of my best budds last year, I made sure to steal all her Sarah Dessen books. 😛 Even so, I rarely give out five stars and was not expecting to fall in love with this book as much as I did! Like the stay up until 4.30am to finish it kinda love. 😀
Warning: Readers should note that this book does cover the delicate issue of rape, although this is only one aspect of the story. If this topic is a painful trigger, you may not want to read on.
I’m the girl who has it all.
Model look, confidence, a great social life.
I’m one of the lucky ones.
My ‘best friend’ is spreading rumours about me. My family is slowly falling apart. It’s turning into a long, lonely summer, full of secrets and silence.
But I’ve met this guy who won’t let me hide away. He’s one of those intense types, obsessed with music.
He’s determined to make me listen.
And he’s determined to make me smile.
But can he help me forget what happened the night everything changed?
Annabel and her best friend Clarke are content playing cards and hanging out at the pool until the charismatic, confident Sophie moves to town. After Annabel extends the hand of friendship Sophie whisks her into the world she has always secretly dreamed of, parties, boys and popularity.
But one summer at a party it all goes wrong, Annabel is shunned by Sophie becoming isolated, even from her own family who are heavily focused on her sisters eating disorder. To cope she sets herself to the default ‘I’m fine’ and when school starts up again she wants nothing more than to stay out of the way. When she meets the antisocial, brutally honest Owen however, she begins to wonder if telling the truth is so bad after all.
I can’t believe I’ve read two five star books in a row, it’s like Christmas and my birthday all wrapped into one guys!!! Have I mentioned I hate reviewing books I love? I just never feel like I can convey how awesome they are. 🙂
Sarah Dessen never ceases to amaze me, yet for some reason I always underestimate her as a writer. She’s never been someone I’ve gone out of my way to follow. I usually borrow her novels from the library or a friend, perhaps because her book blurbs make the stories sound slightly shallow when they aren’t. But I have to say, after consistently impressing me it is about time I started paying attention!
Like her other books Just Listen is an intense but easy read. After a brilliant first chapter I was hooked, finishing the bulk of the novel over the span of three days, which is extremely quick for me! She is so skilled at building up the layers of a story and this came across particularly well in Just Listen as she flipped between Annabel’s past and present filling in the readers questions and concerns. The emotion in this book hit me like a tidal wave, somehow Dessen got me screaming about the unfairness of human nature and reveling in its beauty at the same time. I wasn’t expecting to be quite so blown away!
While the central story revolves around the protagonist Annabel’s struggle to cope with a sexual assault, this is only one section of the story and generally remains in the background. Along with this the book tackles depression, eating disorders and anger issues in varying degree’s yet manages to leave the reader with a positive message and a lot of giggles too. Like her other books it follows a pretty similar formula, girl has family issues and personal problems, she meets a guy that makes her challenge her situation and way of thinking, they fall in love and by the end of the book said girl’s problems have been somewhat sorted out for the better. This may sound formulaic or slightly antifeminist, but is also realistic enough to be believable, and Dessen always manages to add a new spin or concept each time to make her book feel unique. Along with the more obvious themes this book also makes a point of questioning the ideas of friendship, honesty and the power of music.
Annabel is a wonderful character, one many readers I’m sure will relate to. She’s the youngest of two sisters and has been brought up to believe kindness is important, but this is both a good quality and her downfall. In her attempts to be nice she continues to take modeling jobs because her mother loves the atmosphere, (I was unsure I would like this as a storyline but it ended up fitting very well) she yields to her friend Sophie’s demands and mood swings and falls into the pattern of telling little white lies like saying she is fine when she is not. Unwittingly she ends up with so many secrets she doesn’t know how to ask for help when she needs it, and soon has climbed so far inside herself that she can’t find which way is out.
Owen’s character with his anger issues finds the easiest way to cope in the world is to be honest and not bottle things up; the total opposite to Annabel. At first I found myself rolling my eyes at his music obsessed portrayal, a stereotype often taken over the top in novels, but Dessen soon proved he was much more than that, poking fun at his belief that people who listen to good music are ‘enlightened’. These two characters not only had a lot of fun banter, but really made me question how often we as a society use the little white lie ‘I’m fine’ when we’re not. We are polite, we are politically correct and we don’t want to be a bother and this is not necessarily a good thing, in many cases the world would be so much better if we just spat it out!
Annabel’s sisters are also well developed, Kirsten originally shown as bubbly and boy obsessed develops gradually throughout the novel and Whitney’s love of modeling and constant battle with her eating disorder makes for an emotional read. Owen’s friend Rolly is also great and his romance was adorable. The only character I felt was slightly undeveloped was Sophie, there were a few small comments given at the start of the book that vaguely explain her mood swings and need for attention but it is not dealt with in much detail. Then again, I don’t feel like this is her story, it’s very much Annabel’s.
Another cool little thing Sarah Dessen does with her plots is to reference some of her other characters and stories, for instance in Just Listen Annabel and Owen go for food and sitting across from them were another couple, the two protagonists from The Truth About Forever. I love that sort of thing, it’s so much fun!
Just Listen pushes the boundaries, making the reader think and question how they live their everyday lives. While Annabel is not a kickass heroine like Katniss Everdeen, Lisbeth Salander or Elena Michaels she shows her strength in less obvious ways that are far more realistic. I would recommend this book to females 15+ that aren’t triggered by the themes mentioned and who love heart warming, intensely emotional stories. Those that loved The Truth About Forever will definitely enjoy Just Listen with it’s relatable characters and romance elements. The novels famous line is ‘Don’t think or judge, just listen’ so instead I implore, don’t think or judge, just read. 😀
Writing Style: 5/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes!
Book Cover: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1046475.Just_Listen