Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (Book Review)

Just ListenJust Listen by Sarah Dessen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Annabel Green is “the girl who has everything” โ€” at least that’s what she portrays in her modelling 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 ostracised 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?
– From the synopsis found on the Goodreads Website

First off, I’m going to talk about the plot. When I first picked up this book, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting. What I got was definitely different from what I had anticipated, but I feel like the book works better this way. You can definitely draw a lot from this book, which is something that I really like. One song lyric that comes to mind when I think about this book is ‘And I might be okay, but I’m not fine at all’ from All Too Well by Taylor Swift. This really makes you think about how many times we have pretended to be okay because it is easier than the truth. The truth can be a massive burden for others to have to cope with. The truth can hurt a lot sometimes, and telling it to someone else can mean admitting it to yourself. And that is what Annabel is afraid of.

Annabel Greene is the typical girl who has it all. Right? Well, beneath the surface, that doesn’t seem to be true. Something surrounding the circumstances that caused Sophie and Annabel not to be friends anymore is suspicious. I understand why losing a friend from the very top of the social hierarchy could be difficult. But so much so that you shut everyone and everything off? There has to be something more, a reason why Annabel can’t even trust herself anymore. A reason why she’s in denial. And as it turns out, there is…

At the start, we all wonder why when Annabel keeps throwing up at random moments in school. Has she got a stomach bug? Could it be that she is bulimic? (Although, if this were the case, why would she keep randomly throwing up anywhere but a public bathroom?) Worried about her weight and how this could affect the modelling career she secretly loathes? Is she pregnant? These moments in the plot kept me asking this question, but we kept being given one vital clue: it has something to do with Will, Sophie’s boyfriend! He was there JUST before the very first time we read about Annabel being sick. His words, which I think are supposed to be linked to a memory, are quite sinister and creepy. Well, if you factor in the fact that he is Annabel’s ex-best friend’s boyfriend. The question is, what is it exactly that he has done?

What also interested me was why all of Annabel’s relationships, at home had broken down in the first place. The reason I think that Annabel’s relationships have broken down is because Annabel feels shut off. She keeps being left behind by her (now-ex) ‘friends’ when they want to go off and do something she doesn’t feel comfortable with. They’re not loyal and I would go so far as to saying they were a bad influence on her. (view spoiler) Furthermore, she is constantly doing something that she used to love, modelling, but now she feels trapped by it. She has grown out of it, but modelling is her mother’s way of keeping control. Annabel can’t say no – can she?

I think the idea of Annabel living in the glass house (no, for real, their dad built a glass house!) was really symbolic. You would have thought that people who lived in a glass house would be transparent. What you see is what you get. But as it turns out, this is an illusion. There is a whole host of issues and secrets within that house, and not just Annabel’s. As it turns out, her sister Whitney is the one with the eating disorder. Her parents completely overlooked that fact until she nearly DIED. This pushes Annabel to close herself off even more – she doesn’t feel like her parents will be able to cope with the burden of the truth; the truth she isn’t even willing to admit to herself.

But finally, someone comes into Annabel’s life and changes it forever: Owen. Owen is your typical, misunderstood, tough guy. Annabel meets Owen when they start sitting next to each other on the same bench at lunch. At first, she is intimidated by him, due to the fact he had punched another student. But soon, she becomes fascinated. Friendless and lonely, she feels that Owen would be a safer option than Sophie or Emily, who now relentlessly bully her and spread rumours about that night when everything changed. It absolutely puzzles her why he seems to be pretty content as he is, keeping himself to himself, not appearing to have any friends and just sat there, with his headphones in his iPod.

Then one day, he talks. It all starts with him helping her up in the aftermath of a very humiliating situation. They then start having fairly regular conversations, eventually becoming friends. One thing that Owen teaches Annabel is to always tell the truth. Even if it hurts. And he truly practises what he preaches. I’m sure not many people can claim to be honest all of the time. And yet, this doesn’t make his character blunt or unkind in any way. He just tells the truth, knowing that the truth will set you free.

Owen is the friend that everybody needs. He is supportive, he’s funny, he always tells the truth and, although this may sound out, he is unnerving – in a really really good way. In spite of there not being a crazy amount of detail about him physically in the book, he comes across as very attractive. Maybe not at first glance, but knowing what is inside of him, the truly kind heart that he has inside, makes him one of the realistic, swoon-worthy male characters I think I’ve ever encountered in a book.

One subplot of the book is that Owen is giving Annabel CDs that he has burnt, so she can broaden her music horizons. He thinks that something can be learnt from all of the diverse music he listens to, rather than typical pop music that is Annabel’s preference. He tells her to play the CD marked ‘Just Listen’ last.

As you may well have figured out, this friendship soon develops into mutual attraction. Owen is this light, this one person who can make Annabel happy in the darkness she is experiencing. But for him, that isn’t enough. He can sense that something is wrong, but she won’t tell him. She says that she trusts him, but does she really? It appears that she doesn’t, but I think that what stops her is that she cares too much about him. How he may perceive and judge her. How he, the wonderful person that he is, may desert her like the rest. Because the truth can destroy. It’s already destroyed her and almost everything she loves. So, she pushes him away.

But then she realises that she has to tell someone. A revelation from ex-friend turned friend again (?) pushes her, to tell the truth. (view spoiler) To get justice for them both. Feeling upset about her distance from Owen, she goes through all of the CDs he has gifted her, and then finally, sticks on ‘Just Listen.’ It’s not what she was expecting. But she needs to talk to him. And so, she ends up reuniting with Owen. After a big fight about why she can’t open up, she realises what she needs to do. She needs to trust him, to tell him the truth – but not to receive judgement or commentary. She tells him my favourite line in the whole book: “Don’t think or judge, just listen.”

(view spoiler)

I thought the ending was pretty perfect, but not in the stereotypical, fairytale ending way. This was realistic, with Annabel working the radio station during Owen’s grounding and finally, Annabel was starting to come closer to letting go of her past, or at least coming to terms with it. And of course, Annabel and Owen are back together!!! *Cue squealing and happiness* ๐Ÿ˜€
In conclusion, everyone should read this book because:
1. It’s not your typical YA romance
2. It teaches you that the truth is important
3. It’s important not to judge other people by what they have done in the past, or what someone else has been saying about them
4. You can learn so much about what it is like being inside the mind of a (view spoiler)
5. Music is a major theme (what more can you ask for?)

View all my reviews

I hope you guys enjoyed my review! Let me know what you think in the comments below!

xoxo

Hannah

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4 thoughts on “Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (Book Review)

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