Book Review: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Synopsis: I'm Annabel. I'm the girl who has it all. Model looks, confidence, a great social life. I'm one of the lucky ones. Aren't I? 

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?

Pages: 390

Rating: 8/10

Overall: Annabel is a girl who gets broken out of her shell by a painfully honest guy who is obsessed with music. Despite some confusing timeline issues, it was a compelling read and I came to really like Annabel and Owen a lot. A great intro to Sarah Dessen's books.
Just Listen

This is one of my sister's books that has been sitting on my shelf for a while now, waiting to be read. I had heard of Sarah Dessen, seen that she has been quite a prolific author but this is the first book of hers that I have read.

And I was pleasantly surprised.

I had barely read the blurb on the back so I also had very little idea about what I was about to read, but within the first few chapters, you get dropped straight into some pretty serious issues, such as depression and anorexia. But it was preachy, it was part of the story and Dessen tells it how it is. 

The protagonist, Annabel, is likeable if, initially, a bit bland. It felt like Annabel was observing her own life, not really being an active participant in it. Stuff happens to her; she doesn't make things happen. This is highlighted by the things happening in her own family, who seem to need Annabel to be 'fine', while one of her sisters pulls the (deserved) focus of their parents. And she does a good job of putting up this 'fine' façade. But this Annabel is a cover for the real Annabel who has her own issues she can't but needs to address. And the real Annabel is someone I really ended up liking.

Annabel needs someone who will force her outside her own shell.

And here's where Owen comes in. Owen is portrayed as this aloof, loner type. He keeps to himself, with his headphones constantly over his ears. He is an enigma that Annabel wants to crack.

They sit together (but not together, like six feet apart on the wall) for a few weeks, semi-acknowledging each other's presence. Eventually, after a couple of weeks of this not-talking-but-sitting-together-at-lunch-ing, they finally make the first verbal contact. And Annabel finds herself with someone who will tell her the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and someone who expects the same out of her. She finds that both terrifying and liberating.

It is established in the first chapter, that Annabel has been BFFs with Sophie, a popular but bitchy girl, but something happened that has permanently broken their friendship. What that something is, is not clear. But not only has it destroyed her friendship with Sophie but destroyed her social standing at school. So Owen becomes Annabel's only friend when she is at rock bottom, socially.

I was slightly worried about Owen, when he started spouting about how one can become enlightened about music. I was worried that he was a music snob, who hated certain kinds of music just on principle. I am never a fan of music snobs. But Owen, while he chats up a storm about alternative death metal music or whatever, still (slightly begrudgingly) accepts that people are allowed to like stuff he doesn't like, so I forgave him. 

I really liked how Owen showed Annabel that sometimes it is good to 'just listen'. That you should give things a chance, rather than stick your head in the sand. He also presented Annabel with the first person she had ever known who really wanted to listen to her side of things. Owen really taught Annabel to both listen to others and to let others listen to her; an important lesson that Annabel needed to learn. This eventually leads to the climax of the story, where it is revealed what actually happened that broke all her old relationships.

There is a romance underlying their relationship, but it doesn't take centre stage. Apart from a few kisses, it hardly gets addressed, which I found quite refreshing. Refreshing in a sense that a YA novel with a female protagonist does not need to revolve around a romantic relationship. But, yes, I did ship it.

The climax of the story highlights that you can't forget what has happened to you. What happened to you happened, but you don't have to let it define you. But sometimes, it takes a push in the right direction to put it behind you, and move on.

The only real problem I found with the book was that I sometimes found it difficult to keep track of whether we were in a flashback, or not. There seemed to be no definition between then and now in the story's timeline. It would sometimes hit me that we were in a flashback, when I was halfway through the scene. It got me confused at times as to what was going on, and when.

Apart from the timeline issues, I really liked Dessen's style of writing. I look forward to reading some more of her stuff in the future. If you have any recommendations of which one to read next *hint hint*, leave a comment below.

3 comments on "Book Review: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen"

  1. Ooh, just today I was considering giving Sarah Dessen a try! Good timing on the review.

    1. You definitely should give her a try! I really enjoyed it.

      Thanks for the comment :)

  2. Just posted a review of this book on my blog, would love to hear what you think as I am new to blogging. I've read many books by Sarah Dessen, my favorite probably being Someone Like You, how about yourself?'