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 is enjoyable, a fairly light read given its underlying subject matter. The main character is Annabel, the youngest sister of three girls who are all encouraged by their mother to model. Annabel’s best friend Sophie is popular, and being around her seems to have elevated Annabel’s status, but Annabel feels uncomfortable around Will, Sophie’s boyfriend. In time we learn why this is. Just Listen roused my emotions but in my opinion it could have been a more thought provoking read if it explored the personal emotions, and trauma of Annabel being attacked, and her immediate response to that more realistically but instead Annabel chose to remain silent and I found this quite frustrating. Okay, the reader is meant to take from this that she couldn’t bear to tell anyone and I understand that but nevertheless it just seemed a little unrealistic given the circumstances. There are a wide variety of themes that are explored in this novel: anorexia, sibling relationships, families, secrets, boy/girl relationships, sexual assault, and friendship difficulties. The writing is marked by a fair amount of telling which at times slows down and overburdens the narrative.
Overall, I would rate this 4 stars, due to the points mentioned below:
Just Listen’s strengths lie in its:
Portrayal of family life, particularly sibling relationships, the dynamics of the three sisters is where the real emotion of the novel lies. I found myself really moved by certain chapters in the book which explored the relationships between the sisters.
Owen’s character is another high point of the novel he really brought the story to life for me, in fact I would say that he is perhaps a more engaging character than Annabel. Annabel by the very act of withholding her emotions, comes across as quite frustrating. I felt great sympathy when I discovered what had happened to her but I desperately wanted her to confide in Owen but instead, to begin with, she ran away. I do get why she did this but nevertheless I wanted her to do the right thing and tell him and stand up so that other girls wouldn’t go through the same thing.
I liked how Sarah Dessen explored this very human tendency to judge people by their looks, and by other peoples’ reactions to them, rather than looking deeper and discovering for ourselves that everyone can be different and more complex than we expect. Owen, is a perfect example, he sits apart from everyone, is immersed in his music, needs anger management to handle his emotions, but there is so much more to him than those simple facts alone. Even family members can have an unexpected side to them, a case in point is Annabel’s mother, who turns out to be tougher than we might imagine.
The multitude of secrets and hurts that lay buried waiting to be discovered, are fascinating, particularly set amongst the pressures to be the perfect skinny, flawless beauty in the much desired world of modelling.
Music really felt like a character in this novel, and played a pivotal point in the storyline which was such a nice unexpected touch.
This is the first Sarah Dessen novel that I have read, on the whole I enjoyed Just Listen, especially the detail regarding the sibling relationships in the latter part of the novel.
I’d recommend Just Listen to readers of YA, Contemporary, Romance, Chick lit.
Have you read any Sarah Dessen books, do let me know if you have.
Bye for now,
Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx