I had to laugh, because I just finished The Merchant’s Daughter (featuring Annabel as the main character) and Just Listen also features an Annabel – although in MUCH different context and story.
Annabel, a high school student, has a life that looked perfect on the outside. She was popular and went to lots of parties, she models, she lives in a “glass house” … but things are not always what they seem. Annabel’s life changed dramatically over the summer, so as she starts the school year everything seems different. Her former-best-friend, Sophie, now scorns Annabel, and she finds herself friendless and alone at school. In addition, family life has become complicated as Annabel’s sister deals with an eating disorder. Annabel is the kind of person who just wants to make everyone happy – to avoid conflict and avoid upsetting her family. This involves a lot of white lies – all done to protect people she cares about from harsh honesty.
Owen is the kid at school with anger issues – the one who is always listening to music and who, like Annabel, has no one to sit with at lunch. As Annabel gets to know Owen, she discovers that he is always honest – unlike herself.
Annabel must learn to Just listen – before she can start being honest with herself and with others.
This story, like the other Sarah Dessen books I’ve read (Keeping the Moon and Lock and Key) is about personal growth – a theme that I really enjoy. It also tackled some really difficult issues including mental health and sexual assault. Annabel does not start out as a strong character, but she finishes a stronger person than she started. Sometimes reaching for help is the first step.
I cried – big, ugly crocodile tears – while Annabel dealt with some of the tough stuff. I am one of those people who get very emotionally invested in books, but be warned that this (in my opinion) is no light and fluffy beach read. (Or at least the last half of it definitely is not).
Despite my tears, I give this a 4 / 5. I think Sarah Dessen does a great job of treating sensitive topics with grace and honesty.