As someone who has read all but one Sarah Dessen book (and that last one was recently purchased on a trip to Half Price Books—yay!), I can tell you, I didn’t appreciate Just Listen when I first read it. Coming down from the sa-woon-worthy high of A Truth About Forever, I didn’t see this gem for what it is. It’s a slow burn. But once you wrap your head around it, it’ll hit you hard.
Annabel is the perfect girl—at least that’s what everyone thinks. She’s been a model for as long as she can remember, which is how she got cast as the “perfect girl” in the widely-circulated local commercial that is on everywhere. In reality, her life is far from perfect. She was cast out of her friend group by the resident Regina George, a girl named Sophie who has been her best friend for years. After spending several lunchtimes alone, she starts spending the time with the school’s bad boy, Owen Armstrong. He’s dark, he’s a loner, and he’s obsessed with weird music. But he also has a habit of speaking only the truth that turns Annabel’s whole world upside down.
It’s going to be difficult to talk about this one without giving anything away, so here comes the warning—there may be spoilers ahead. The plot for Just Listen is two-fold with many subplots layered throughout. The first primary plot is trying to figure out the reason that Annabel was cast out by Sophie. It’s something big, something that will make your skin crawl, and while I didn’t necessarily see it coming, when it was revealed, I wasn’t shocked. It fits the tone, and Dessen had been hinting about it for the entire book. Like I said, this one is a slow burn. The second primary plot has to do with the unlikely friendship between Annabel and Owen. For the first several chapters, Owen is painted as a criminal, so it comes out of left field when he is genuinely nice and caring toward Annabel. Turns out, surprise! He’s not at all what he seems, just like how Annabel isn’t the person Sophie is painting her to be. The subplots are just as intriguing and come from a similar vein—the most significant being that Annabel’s sister, who is also a model, is suffering from a debilitating eating disorder.
I’m telling you, this book will hit you hard, right in the feels.
As someone who has experienced something similar to Annabel (it’s so weird to write this so cryptically, but I’m really trying not to give anything away), I can tell you that this book hit a lot closer to home upon rereading it this past summer. And I wish I had had someone like Owen to help me dig deep within myself and confront the truth about it. Actually, I wish I had someone like Owen in many aspects of my life—his truth-telling is incredibly charming. I’ll ship Owen and Annabel until I can’t ship things anymore, I’ll say that much. Really, I’m just thankful that this book exists for the young girls who may need it, just like I did (even though I didn’t know I needed it until much later).
Just Listen is available where books are sold. Sarah Dessen is also the author of eleven other books, including The Truth About Forever. Her newest, Once and for All, is due out in June 2017.