Monday, May 10, 2010

Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen

Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen. New York: Speak, 2006. ISBN-10: 0670061050; ISBN-13: 978-0670061051. 384 p.

Plot Summary
Annabel Greene has everything--at least, that's what you'd think if you only knew her from her modeling shoots. But her life is far from perfect. Her older sister has an eating disorder, and her relationship with her best friend Sophie ended suddenly last summer. She's ostracized at school and isolated at home, so she retreats into silence as a coping mechanism. When she meets Owen, his brutal honesty helps her learn to listen to herself and gain the courage to be honest with others. But will she be able to share what really happened the night that she and Sophie stopped being friends?

Critical Evaluation
Sarah Dessen is excellent at characterization, and this book is no exception. The characters' motivations and backstories are clear, and they're easy people to care about. Norah Piehl at says that "Sarah Dessen's novels have become extraordinarily popular, not only for her strongly drawn characters but also for the trust she places in her readers. She has faith that they will be smart enough to pick up the sophisticated symbols and themes with which her stories are infused, and the results are novels whose wisdom far exceeds most other fiction for young adults....Annabel and her family literally live in a glass house; appearances are important to them, from Whitney's self-damaging desire for physical perfection to Annabel's mother's desire to help advance her daughters' modeling careers. With Owen's help, Annabel eventually recognizes that the truth, even when it's ugly, is infinitely more important than the image she presents to the world. Her journey to this difficult realization is not an easy one, but her clear voice and her introspection will make readers eager to take that journey with her."

Reader’s Annotation
Annabel looks like the girl who has everything. But in reality, she finds it hard to deal with her sister's eating disorder and the sudden end of her friendship with Sophie. Will her new relationship with Owen help her learn to communicate?

Author Information
Sarah Dessen grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and graduated with honors in Creative Writing from UNC-Chapel Hill. She still lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. She likes gardening and shopping, and owns 11 pairs of black pants (source). She blogs at

When asked if she always wanted to be a writer, Dessen says "As far back as I can remember, I’ve been writing. I’ve always had this wild imagination, and I love to embellish stories to make them more interesting. When I was a kid I had all these intricate histories for all my stuffed animals and dollhouse families, which I would type out on this old manual typewriter my parents set up for me in the corner of our TV room. I kept writing all through middle school, and in high school I got diverted a bit, but I picked it up again in college. I really didn’t think I’d actually be a writer until I graduated and found that I just couldn’t stop and go get a real job. Every time I finished something, another idea would follow right behind. So I went into waitressing and just wrote like crazy. At times it seemed really stupid, since I was totally broke and there was no kind of guarantee that I’d ever see anything come of it. Luckily, it did. But even if I hadn’t sold a book by now I’d still be writing. It becomes a part of you, just something you do"(link). Her discipline and imagination have made her very successful as a writer of contemporary YA fiction.  

Chick lit

Curriculum Ties
Psychology: eating disorders, communication problems

Booktalking Ideas
Describe Annabel's loneliness now that she's friendless at school.

Reading Level/Interest Age
Grades 9+ (School Library Journal)
Grades 8-11 (Booklist)

Challenge Issues

I included this book because my 16-year-old sister loves Sarah Dessen, and I thought I'd take her recommendation and check Dessen out. I'm glad I did!


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