Sunday, August 03, 2008

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Published in 2006. 371 pages.

First sentence: I taped the commercial back in April, before anything had happened, and promptly forgot about it.

Last sentence: It was bright and warm, catching the ring on my thumb as Owen reached for it, spinning it slowly, slowly, as the song played on.

Why I read this book: I wanted to have a young adult novel with me on vacation, for a quick read after I finished The Host. My seventeen-year-old daughter is a fan of Dessen, and I've been wanting to read some of her work. I mentioned Just Listen in a post I wrote for Weekly Geeks about teen dating violence, so it's been on my mind - and it was what I picked up when I was at the library.

Description of the plot (adapted from the book jacket): Annabel Grene is the girl who has everything. At least that's who she plays in a department store commercial. In real life, though, Annabel is the girl who has nothing: no best friend since mean-but-exciting Sophie dumped her with malicious rumors flying, no peace at home while her older sister's eating disorder preoccupies the family, and no ability to tell anyone what's on her mind. Then she meets Owen Armstrong - intense, obsessed with music, and determined to always tell the truth, no matter what the consequences. Can a girl who hates confrontation find a way to connect with a guy who thrives on it? And can Annabel find the courage to tell what really happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends?

What I liked about this book - and how I think it compares to Speak: Comparison of Just Listen to Speak, which I reviewed earlier this year, is inevitable. The basic plot lines are similar, and even the titles invoke the same concept. The books are quite different, however, most notably in tone, but also, I think, in the subtext; I came away from Just Listen with a different feeling than I got from Speak. I really loved Speak, and I also loved Just Listen - but I think for different reasons. Both books have great protagonists with strong voices - but their voices aren't the same. In Speak Melinda has the perfect combination of sarcastic wit and honest pain; Annabel is more "chatty," giving more details about her days. In some ways, I might equate Melinda to my older daughter and Annabel to my younger; I love talking to them both, but the conversations proceed quite differently. Both books also make use of symbolism - something I greatly enjoy in a contemporary novel. Speak is more subtle about it than Just Listen is, with Just Listen packed full with symbols that help define the themes of the book. (A couple of times I wondered if teen readers would find the symbolism a little too blatant, as in, "Enough with the symbols; I get it already." But personally I love symbolism!) The way that music played an integral part in Just Listen's plot was a major plus for me, and I always like a sweet love story.

For more information: I liked this review at Dessen talks about how she got the idea for Just Listen on her website.

What I'm going to read next: I'm already committed to reading quite a few books for August, including Breaking Dawn, The Accidental Time Machine, Suite Française, and Nights in Rodanthe (that one's actually a re-read), but I'd love to fit in another of Dessen's just as soon as I have the time! I'm going to ask my daughter which she recommends ...

Other book bloggers' reviews of Just Listen:
If you have read and reviewed this book, I would love to link your review here. Please leave me a comment or email me your link!



  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed this! I thought it was a "very good" book. I have another Dessen book (don't remember the title at the moment) on my iPod ready to go, now I just have to find the time for it, which is probably after challenges. I'm curious as to what your daughter would recommend.

  2. joy: i remembered that you liked this one, and i've linked to your review. i'll let you know what my daughter says!

  3. I've read Just Listen and really enjoyed it as well. Nice review!

    The Accidental Time Machine - looks like you're in Becky's Book Club as well!:) I'm half way thru and am really enjoying it. I can't wait for the first discussion night!

  4. bobbi: i visited your blog briefly to see if you had a review of Just Listen. i didn't see one - but i didn't want to look too closely because i'm still reading Breaking Dawn and didn't want to "accidentally" read any of your spoilers. :) if you've got a review that i could link, will please you let me know?

    yes, i am reading The Accidental Time Machine for Becky's Online Book Club. i haven't started it yet ... but i'm taking it with me on vacation this week.

  5. I just read Speak last month and loved it. I'm going to have to find this one now too, to compare. Thanks for the review.