Just Listen – Sarah Dessen

Posted 23 September, 2010 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 14 Comments


Title: Just Listen
Author: Sarah Dessen
Published: 2006; Pages: 371
Genre: Fiction (YA)
Rating: 3.75/5

Just Listen is the story of Annabel Greene, who at first glances appears to have everything, but as she starts a new school year this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Something has happened over the summer and she has become alienated from her best friend Sophie and it seems everyone else has turned their shoulder on her as well.  Annabel seeks refuge at “the wall” during lunches and everything changes for her when she realizes she can find solace in the quiet and greatly misunderstood Owen Armstrong.

Little by little Annabel begins opening up to Owen about the things she keeps locked away–her sister’s eating disorder and how Annabel hates modeling but continues because of her mom–but completely opening up about everything that has happened to her proves to be difficult.  Annabel fails to understand how she can be so truthful about everything when there’s so much at stake when people find out what really happened.

This is my first Dessen novel and after hearing such raves about her books I was pleased to find that I wasn’t let down.  Her characters are very real, which made identifying with portions of all of them easy.  I sometimes had troubles liking the characters, especially Annabel, because they were portrayed so realistically.  Another thing that I appreciated about the book was that the conflicts were mostly internal conflicts–we don’t learn what actually happened between Annabel and Sophie until later in the book and so most of the struggles that we hear from Annabel are global struggles–trying to keep up a perfect facade when inside there is so much turmoil. 

For me this is what being a teenager was so much about–inner turmoil.  And misunderstandings between friends, and failure to fully listen to each side of the story, and assumptions, and trying to please parents who don’t really understand what you’re feeling.  As I was reading this book I was trying to figure out why it was classified as YA or what makes any book a YA novel?  Is it because the characters are all teenaged?  Because while the subject matter revolves around high school and high school students (although not really), the emotions expressed in the book go beyond those felt by just a teenager–they are human emotions that one feels at any age.  As I mentioned in my review on Thirteen Reasons Why, its just as an adult you may be better equipped to handle the emotional turmoil due to experience than a teenager.

Bottom line is I liked the book.  I didn’t love it–I actually got a little restless because the “mystery” about Annabel wasn’t announced until so late in the book.  And this was fine because it didn’t really matter to the plot of the story because it was about so much more than that and the way the book came together at the end worked, but still.  :)  This book was the perfect vacation read–not heavy but interesting enough to hold my attention.

A few notable quotes:

‘”Exactly!’ he said, nodding.  ‘That’s my point.  That’s why we can’t forget it.  No matter how much time has passed, these things still affect us and the world we live in.  If you don’t pay attention to the past, you’ll never understand the future.  It’s all linked together.'” (338).

“All I’d ever wanted was to forget.  But even when I thought I had, pieces kept emerging, like bits of wood floating up to the surface that only hint at the shipwreck below.  A pink shirt, a rhyme with my name, the feeling of hands on my neck.  Because this is what happens when you try to run from the past.  It doesn’t just catch up: it overtakes, blogging out the future, the landscape, the very sky, until there is no path left except that which leads through it, the only one that can ever get you home” (340).

So out of curiosity–what does make a YA book a YA book??

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14 Responses to “Just Listen – Sarah Dessen”

  1. This one just might be my next Sarah Dessen read. I read The Truth About Forever last year and absolutely loved it.

    In answer to your question, from what I see (and hear for that matter), it seems like the most major thing that really makes a YA book a YA book is the book’s marketers. I’ve read plenty of YA that could easily have passed for adult fiction and easily been enjoyed by adults but just happened to be shelved in the YA section and pushed at a YA audience. The only other thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes YA books sacrifice more of the detail and/or flowery prose of “adult” books in favor of faster pacing, more dialogue, and more plot-driven stories – but not always that either. *shrugs helplessley* Who knows, really? LOL.

  2. I remember really loving Owen when I read this book.

    My simple answer to the YA question is if the protagonist is a teenager, and currently living that life then it’s usually YA. If they are teenager, but looking back on their life from the perspective of an adult, then sometimes it’s not in that category any more. But the answer really us MUCH more complicated than that!

  3. I really enjoyed this one, particularly Owen.

    I have no idea what the difference is supposed to be between YA and Adult. I’ll just let the marketing gurus make those decisions. :D But I did feel like some books are marketed wrong – like I felt Tender Morsels was an adult book, not because of the harsher content, but because the central story revolves around the mother of the two girls, which I felt was more an adult theme. I certainly understood it much more as an adult than would have as a teen.

  4. I suppose when we think about YA we normally associate it with books about teenagers and young adults. Even though the story content can often be stronger than what would be suitable. I would classify YA as teenage books about teenage problems.

    I have yet to read Sarah Dessen and I wonder if I am put off by all the hype that surrounds her. I do own this one, so I hope to get around to reading it soon.

  5. Wow…I love that last quote! That alone would have me adding to my TBR list, if it weren’t already there.

    As for the YA distinction–beats the hell out of me. Helpful, aren’t I?

  6. I’ve heard such good things about this author and your review made me want to give her a try even more. I can’t really answer question as I don’t know the answer myself :P Great review though!

  7. So many people seem to love Dessen’s work and I’ve always suspected I might be a little old for it. After your review, I think I might have been right.

  8. On my Friday Coffee Chat feature a few weeks ago I actually asked this question as well because I didn’t really understand what the appeal of YA fiction was. Little did I know that apparently some of what I read is considered YA and I didn’t consider it YA. I think it mostly has to do with the age of the people in the book, not necessarily the theme or content which is unfortunate. I think like someone else said above that it’s mostly a marketing tool. After the conversation, I’m much more open to YA than I was a month ago. What it really comes down to though is that people should just read whatever they want to read. If I want to read a picture book I’m going to (can you really “read” a picture book? hehehe). I’m just getting old and crotchety and more set in my ways so I am caring less and less what other people think. :P

  9. I am wondering how well I would take to this novel. I find that when I read YA in matters like this book or 13 reasons why, I tend to get too frustrated. I guess when I identify with the characters, maybe I get frustrated with the way i handled things in my youth. Who knows? Maybe that’s a good thing…

  10. I’ve read one book by the author and loved it. I love her writing style. I have Just Listen in my TBR and I can’t wait to get to it.

  11. I’ve never read anything by Sarah Dessen, but I did read Thirteen Reasons Why on your recommendation and really liked it, so maybe I should try this one too.

    I think what makes a YA book is the newness of everything that goes along with life. They tend to be stories about how to get through things the first time around when there’s no experience to fall back on to help you deal with them. That usually requires teenage characters who are going through new things. Perhaps YA books also reveal fewer levels of any given situation. What I mean is that life can be like a film where you see the film “superficially” the first time and then when you re-watch it, things pop up that you didn’t notice before. It adds a layer of depth that YA books often don’t have.

    Having said all that, just because a book is YA doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it all the same.

  12. My youngest daughter really enjoys her work and I am hoping to read her myself one day. There are just so many titles from which to choose, I don’t know which one to read first.

  13. I really need to have my daughter try some Dessen. She is a reluctant reader but I wonder if someone that really seems to write books should could easily relate to might catch her interest.