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Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Just Listen This is one of a handful of books that I tend to read over and over. And I’m not really sure why. It’s… relatively simple. Annabel, our main character, is a teen model, but otherwise seems to be a pretty normal girl. Except her friends won’t talk to her anymore. And she’s obviously hiding some secrets that are quietly tearing her apart. And Owen, her love interest is… well, he’s pretty interesting, with his wild taste in music and his I‐don’t‐care‐what‐anyone‐thinks attitude, but he seems… honestly, he seems kind of like a jerk, actually. I always think this, until I get to know him. And then, the more you read, the more you realize he’s way more messed up and, at the same time, way more put together than he seems. And sometimes I still think he is a jerk, but he’s also very human, and I like him for that.

And that’s kind of how the book is‐ it’s deceptively simple, but really, there’s just so much going on beneath the surface, with Owen and Annabel, but also with Annabel’s sister, and Owen’s friends. And everything that’s happening in these people’s lives.

I really like the author, Sarah Dessen. I’ve read almost all of her books‐ I think there’s one I still haven’t done yet‐ and I always find her enjoyable, her writing lovely, and her ideas and characters emotional and engaging. But there’s something special about ‘Just Listen.’ Maybe it’s because it deals with music, and I love music. Or maybe it’s because both Owen and Annabel often feel like outcasts, set apart from their own lives, and that’s a feeling that’s not only easy to understand, but, weirdly, enjoyable to sink into, especially as a teenager, but as an adult too, because it makes you feel like someone understands you. But I think what I like even more than the ideas expressed in the book, the issues, is the characters and how they deal with those problems. How real they are, as people, how very three‐dimensional. Annabel always feels like a friend, and maybe that’s why I go back to her so often. And Owen is always someone I want to be around, someone I want to read about, even when’s being an ass, because I honestly like him.

And I love the way Sarah Dessen talks about things‐ the big things, but also the small things. One day Annabel comes home and finds her sister, who’s recovering from anorexia (is that how you phrase that) tending some herbs she’s growing in little pots on the windowsill. And the way the scene is described, her sister there in the window, bending over the pots, the colors of the house and the day, everything, is just simple but gorgeous and elegant and kind of exquisite.

So I can’t really say why this book holds my heart so much‐ I can list how complex and mature the plot elements are and how great the characters and the writing are, but I think, in reality, this book has that strange, indescribable something more, a combination of things that comes together and creates something bigger and more important than the separate pieces.

As for other Sarah Dessen books‐ like I said before, I’m a fan of hers all the time. But aside from ‘Just Listen,’ I personally like ‘Dreamland’ best, and it’s also very much worth a read.   -SEL

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