Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Welcome to another Sunday with Sarah, where I review all of Sarah Dessen’s books!

“There comes a time in every life when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you’d better learn to know the sound of it. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying.”

just listen

Synopsis from GoodreadsAnnabel Green is “the girl who has everything” — at least that’s what she portrays in her modeling shoots. But Annabel’s life is far from perfect. Her friendship with Sophie ended bitterly,and her older sister’s eating disorder is weighing down the entire family. Isolated and ostracized at school and at home, Annabel retreats into silent acceptance. Then she meets Owen — intense, music obsessed, and determined to always tell the truth. And with his guidance, Annabel learns to just listen to herself and gains the courage to speak honestly. But will she be able to tell everyone what really happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends?

Feelings: I really liked the way this book was structured. From the first chapter, we know that something happened to Annabel. By chapter 4, we’re digging into some very real issues at the heart of the Greene family, but still left wondering what exactly happened to Annabel. The way Dessen weaved the past and the story’s present together was skillfully done. I never felt like I was left hanging and I didn’t get frustrated with the lack of information. I began piecing the story together and it made sense for the story to come together that way, as Annabel is figuring out how to voice what happened. As she finds safety with Owen and discovers her voice again, we get a little bit more insight.

This book reminded me of This Lullaby in a lot of ways, but also not at all. Ha! This story focused a lot on music and it’s impact on people, while This Lullaby had a lot to do with the band Truth Squad and the song that Remy’s father had written for her before he died. Also in this book, we actually saw some of our old Truth Squad friends! Hate Spinnerbait! It was nice to “see” some familiar faces in the band, as well as Remy.

Issues: I would have liked some kind of reconciliation with Sophie, or at least some closure there. They didn’t have to end up being BFFs again (because let’s face it, that was a pretty toxic relationship) but Sophie being on a path to healing of her own would have been nice. Also, I kind of felt like we flew through the resolution. We spent the whole book building up to Annabel being able to speak her truth to those who would listen and one chapter later, THE END.

Characters: Somehow, Dessen is able to write characters that are so different from each other and so very real. There have been numerous Dessen heroines that I’ve identified with for different reasons. It’s like if you combined all of her girls together, you’d have me. Annabel is no different. She’s harboring a secret and is scraping by as “fine.” She wants to be nice and doesn’t want to be honest because she avoids conflict, but Owen is so totally opposite of that. He is straight forward, but he isn’t brutish. He listens to Annabel (for the most part) and as a result, she finally finds her voice. I’m all about that kind of relationship.

This Dessen book didn’t have that dynamic friend group like we saw in The Truth About Forever and This Lullaby, but we did get to dig a little deeper into family conflicts. I love the sister dynamic of this story. Dessen really captures what it’s like to try and fulfill the various sister roles and the pressures of measuring up to your siblings.

There was a lot of tension happening between a lot of characters. There were some micro-conflicts and then a couple of larger conflicts, all tied together with one major overarching conflict. This story was full of misunderstandings and near misses, but that’s life, right? Those moments were intentional; it’s not like there were plot holes or annoying gaps in Dessen’s writing.

Final thoughts: This book left me doing a lot of self-reflection. I actually cried before I got to the halfway mark…it was just really compelling. There were also some sweet, funny moments mixed in, so it wasn’t just this dark, heavy read. I know a lot of people see Dessen’s writing as formulaic (girl has issue, girl meets boy who helps her face issue, story climax resulting in girl and boy going separate ways, reconciliation), but this one just felt different somehow. I think of all Dessen’s books, this would be the first I’d recommend.

Pick this up if you liked:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Goodreads rating: 4.07/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.5/5

My rating: 4.75/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

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2 thoughts on “Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

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