Saturday, February 23, 2013

Rereading Sarah Dessen: Just Listen

As you may know, I'm taking part in the I Eat Words Sarah Dessen Read/Reread Challenge this year. Check out this post that explains the details about the awesomeness that is this challenge. I've decided to do something a little different with my reviews for these books, just for fun. Also, my best friend Sandy will be sharing her thoughts along with me every month. Sandy is an aspiring author and we've been obsessed with Dessen for about as long as we've been BFFs (that would be almost 12 years, for you curious folk). Since she doesn't have her own blog, I thought it'd be great for her to join in on here. I hope you enjoy our thoughts!

Let's start off with the synopsis for Just Listen:
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.
Now for the different part...I'm going to do a sort of list/stats sheet before giving my thoughts on the book. My actual review won't be too long, unless I have something epic to discuss. Those who have read Dessen before will know why I'm highlighting certain things because there are some similarities in all of her books. As it's been awhile since I've read a lot of these, I'm sure I'll come up with a longer list by the time the year is over!

About the Story
Main  Character: Annabel Green
Age: 16
School Year or Summer?: School Year
Boy: Owen Armstrong
First description of boy: "...he was tall and muscular, with broad shoulders and thick biceps. And he always wore boots with thick rubber soles that made him seem even bigger, his steps heavier. His hair was dark and cut short, spiking up a bit at the top, and I've never once seen him without his iPod and earphones..."
Crushable?: Definitely. He's mysterious with a bit of a bad boy edge.
Big Secret?: Yes. We're not too sure what exactly happened between Annabel and Sophie.
Heavy Storyline?: Yes. Anorexia and sexual assault are both main topics of the novel.
Parents Together?: Yes.
Siblings: Two sisters, both older.
Cameos: At least one - Remy and Dex from This Lullaby show up at a concert Owen and Annabel attend.

About the Book
Released: April 2006
Epigraph?: Yes. "The best way out is always through." - Robert Frost
Format (of my copy): Paperback
Own?: Yes. (My second copy...first went missing when I loaned it to someone...stupid me.)
Signed?: No.
Read or Reread: Reread
Age when first read: 18 (probably...I would have read it as soon as it was released...unless I got it for my 19th birthday the next month).

My Thoughts
Oh, man. This book was a lot heavier than I remembered, which is surprising as I was an older teen when I read it for the first time. My stomach was all twisted in knots as I reread what happened to her and again when she was trying to decide if she should share her story with Owen, her family, and the police. She goes through something that no girl should have to deal with, simply because some guy was an asshole. I hate that she felt like she shouldn't or couldn't tell anyone about what happened. No girl or woman should ever have that feeling.
I think the last time I read it I probably thought of myself as one of her friends but this time around, since I'm almost a decade older than Annabel, I felt more like her big sister. Which was definitely not a bad thing. It sort of gave me a new perspective - both with Annabel's story and the stories of her sisters. I paid more attention to what Whitney and Kirsten were going through and how their lives impacted Annabel's.
I was worried about rereading these books and how I'd feel about the romance aspect of the story. As I mentioned, I'm quite a bit older than Annabel now and the relationship I'm in is vastly different than the crush she has on Owen. I don't know why I was worried. Dessen's main characters are always mature, down to earth, and...well, not annoying (you won't find any of them excited to see a sparkly immortal being watching them sleep in their bedrooms, that's for sure). Dessen's romances are almost never about trying to get the boy. Instead, the boy and girl are thrown together for some reason and feelings grow from there.
Now, I've just read over what Sandy has written and there is no way I can compete with her thoughts. They're awesome. I'll end my mini review here and let you read Sandy's opinion on Just Listen. Enjoy!

Sandy's Thoughts
I want to start off by saying that I love Sarah Dessen’s books. I started reading them in high school on recommendation from Kaley and at 25 I continue to wait anxiously for each new novel she writes. However, in the last ten years I have never reread a single one of them. When Kaley shared this challenge with me I was immediately on board.
Diving into Just Listen this month gave me a different kind of feeling while reading a Sarah Dessen book. Usually the characters and events are unknown to me and unfold gradually with each sentence and chapter. Having already read Just Listen when it first came out I remembered the storyline of Annabel’s assault and Owen coming to her aid, but I had forgotten about Whitney, Clarke, Rolly even Mallory. Reading about Annabel and her family a second time allowed me to focus on the intricate details that sometimes get lost in the rest of the drama. The first time I was interested in the relationship between Annabel and Owen. I have to say that Owen Armstrong is one of my favourite male characters in a Sarah Dessen book. She has a way of writing people that you want to meet. Even minor characters have such life and personality that draw you further into the world she is creating. Owen is a character that I can picture knowing in high school. He’s tall and threatening to see but in the end he is caring and compassionate enough to help a strange girl when she is down. He is the guy that every teenage girl (and every woman they become) wishes would have befriended her in high school because he pays attention, asks about feelings and doesn’t hold his thoughts to himself. All any woman wants is to be understood and accepted; Owen gives that to Annabel.
My focus this time shifted from that bond Owen creates between himself and Annabel and onto the bond within the Greene household. There is an inherent ebb and flow to any relationship that stretches over time. Everyone changes and the people around them, especially family, adapt to that change through acceptance or dismissal. Annabel errs on the side of dismissal when she feels change happening in the case of Clarke and Sophie. When a rift occurs she believes that is the end, there is no going back because change is an ending and not just a transition. Over time an ending is really just a beginning. By the end of the novel the Greene family has started a new beginning with each other.
The Greene’s adapt and change to support Annabel’s mother when her own mother dies then Whitney when her eating disorder is discovered and finally Annabel when she tells them about the assault. The year that passes in the pages of Just Listen sees a family in flux gathering around each member that needs help, love and above all support. Annabel realizes this when she tells the reader that she only has to ask to be brought back in to her family to be safe and immersed again. (Pg 353) I love the message that Sarah Dessen shares with us: family dynamics change but family itself is forever.
There is so much more going on in Just Listen than another teen love story. It is about connections between friends and family that are about honesty and acceptance. It is about being honest, above all, with yourself in order to control life around you. By the end of the book all of the characters have found a new kind of normal. Nothing is exactly the way it was but now everyone feels in control of the life they are living. The good and bad of life passes and the day to day is what we are left with.

Up next month...This Lullaby. My favourite!


  1. I just love how a Dessen book has the power to bring people together! One of my best friends is actually going to be on board with me for this challenge too! This is the first time I have re-read any of Dessen's novels and I honestly had forgotten about most of this book. I too felt more like I was Annabel's big sister and I was so happy that the slimeball got what was coming to him. If Owen hadn't punched him I probably would have! I love that the romance isn't the main focus of this book. It seems to be more about Annabel and her journey. This book was pretty heavy but Dessen writes in such a way that it's tolerable. Anyway, love this post and love this book!

  2. I re-read Just Listen last week, for the first time since it came out (seven years ago?!), and I too had completely forgotten how intense this book gets! Somehow, I'd almost completely forgotten about the sexual assault story, as well as the specifics of Whitney's recovery, and the modeling...pretty much everything! Ridiculous. But it made for a really great re-reading experience.

    I agree with both of you that as an "older" (whatever, I'm in my mid-20s, that's not THAT old) reader, I took more interest in the stories of Annabel's mother and sisters. It's interesting to me how age does and doesn't make a difference in that respect.

    I'm so excited to read This Lullaby next. It's far and away my all-time favorite Sarah Dessen book. :)

  3. This is such a great wrap up post! I like that you included the basic facts :) I agree with you, though. It was heavier than I remembered as well! I still really enjoyed it--especially the message of don't judge, just listen. :) Thanks for participating with such a GREAT post! <3


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