In "Just Listen" by Sarah Dessen, Annabel Greene gets excluded from her group of friends. There's a secret that she desperately wants to keep from everybody, even if that means that she's going to have to shut off all her friends and family.
Excessive Use of Flashbacks: Yay or Nay?
I couldn't quite get into this one. Dessen has a way of writing that I'm not very fond of. She uses a lot of flashbacks to establish her characters and familiarize the reader with them. At times I got lost in those flashbacks and didn't even know anymore what the present tense storyline is about. When you've got so much background story information dump, it's very easy to lose motivation. I had rather have her add the character development to the present stroyline instead of rambling on and on about past events. I get that it's necessary and I think that the information is absolutely vital to the plot, but still, come on, no flashbacks!
Essentially because Dessen's writing is centered around Annabel's family in the beginning, her sisters Whitney and Kirsten, instead of around her, I kind of forgot who the main character was. It felt like the protagonist was Whitney with her eating disorder instead of Annabel. Another thing that bugged me intensly is how broken her family is. Everybody has issues, everybody has some kind of mental illness and a dramatic backstory explaining it. It's just too much. You can't do it all justice in one novel if you mash things together and hardly even deal with them. (Writing 2/5)
Teenagers Don't Act Like This
What bugged me intensely is how grown-up the main characters Owen and Annabel are acting. Teenagers that age are moody, irreponsible and don't care much about anything besides themselves. It's not a cliche, if you know people that age, you know it's true. You might want to argue: Not all of them are like this- but making the two main characters be so ridiculously compassionate, understanding and grown-up just made me shake my head. Annabel's family is falling apart and she is too, yet she's so selflessly doing everything to make everyone happy. There are no rash decisions, no teenage tantrums, nothing. The only times teenagers in the novel act up is due to some kind of mental issue or due to being the antagonists.
Especially with Owen I straight up had the feeling that Dessen was talking through him like a puppet. He sounds nothing like a teenage boy. Having obscure interests is one thing, but making him this sort of super precocious and at the same time wiser than his years kind of guy doesn't make him attractive as a love interest, it just makes me roll my eyes. The majority of people twice his age I know aren't as grown-up as him and it's just not a flattering personality trait if you want your audience to like him. In general I think the novel would have worked so, so, so, so much better with twenty-something main characters instead of pretentious sixteen year olds.
Still, I can't deny that Dessen's characters are well thought out. You can clearly see that she put thought into building them, but it's just over the top to me. I couldn't really like anyone in the novel and if you don't empathize with the characters, it's hard to have fun reading. It took me forever to finish this novel for that exact reason. (Characters 3/5)
The Story is Going Nowhere
Overall: Do I Recommend?
I'm disappointed with Sarah Dessen's writing. It's the first novel of hers that I've read and it's certainly going to be the last. I had to force myself to continue reading and absolutely didn't enjoy it at all. The characters are well thought out and the writing is alright, I have to acknowledge that, but it's just not an interesting read. I almost fell asleep reading this.
"Last year, Annabel was "the girl who has everything" — at least that's the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf's Department Store.
This year, she's the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong.
Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen's help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends."
Author: Sarah Dessen
Published: April 6th 2006
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Cover: Viking Books for Young Readers, 2006
Cover: Viking Books for Young Readers, 2006
Genre: YA / General
Recommended for Fans of:
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
You Against Me by Jenny Downham