Dessen, Sarah. Just Listen.

NY: Viking, 2006.

I’ve become hooked recently on Dessen’s highly literate YA novels, and this one is one of her best so far. Even though I’m a grandparent, I’m also a lifelong librarian and recommender of books to all sorts of readers, and that includes teenagers, so the purported target readership doesn’t faze me. A book is either well-written or not.

Annabel is seventeen and the youngest of three sisters, all of whom have been modeling, locally but very professionally, since early childhood. The oldest, Kirsten, is the most outgoing and has now gone off to New York, the world capital of modeling, though she’s getting really tired of all that. Whitney, the middle sister (and “the most beautiful girl I ever saw,” in Annabel’s view), is much more solitary and reserved. And she has serious problems, as we learn as the story progress. Annabel herself, who has “always been stuck somewhere in the middle,” simply tries very hard to avoid confrontation of any kind — which isn’t easy since the highly manipulative Sophie, her ex-best friend, has turned on her (for bad reasons) and attacks her verbally at every public opportunity. But then she becomes acquainted with Owen Armstrong, six-foot-four and “the angriest boy in the school,” and her entire outlook on the world and her place in it begins to change. Owen’s thing is experimental pop music and he even has a radio show — at 7:00 a.m. Sunday mornings on the local “cultural” station. Owen has also been under court-mandated anger management counseling, and has learned to be totally, bluntly, honest in every single way and has come to expect that from everyone else, too. And there’s also Will Cash, with whom Annabel had a devastating personal encounter a few months before, an experience that has haunted her ever since.

Dessen is very good at creating characters in great depth, young players the reader may or may not identify with but who are very interesting in themselves. She’s also excellent at devising plots and action that move the story along while also causing one to pause and think about exactly what’s happening, and what it might mean. Highly recommended.

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Published in: on 22 June 2017 at 11:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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