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. – Goodreads
I have been marathoning Sarah Dessen via audiobooks from my library’s overdrive app. This means that I, a fast talker and faster reader, and listen to audiobooks at 2X and everything is lovely and happy. However, my library does not have all of her books via the app and this means I have to go old school and listen to it on CD. HOW DO I LIVE?! I don’t know. But really, I’m joking. I don’t mind listening to audiobooks on CD and in my car. But I realized while listening to Just Listen is that it is almost painful for me to listen to it at normal speed which ultimately effected my enjoyment of this novel. The narrator seemed to draw it out and make it try to go on forever, and not in a good way. There are multiple books that I’ve read that if they were to go on forever I would have hearts in my eyes. This was not one of them. That is part the narration and part the story.
I have wrote and re-wrote this review multiple times and each version ends up with the same “meh” feeling about the book. I am not sure if that comes from my problem with the narration, or the book in general, but ultimately it didn’t work for me. Just Listen is the story of Annabel, a girl who lives in a glass house where everything looks perfect. Of course, as everyone knows, looks can be deceiving. Her life is not remotely perfect. Annabel and her two sisters are models, the girls who have everything, but they aren’t. Her one sister is anorexic, the other one “ratted” her out and Annabel found out that she officially has no one in her life. She’s lost all of her friend(s), her mother has been dealing with depression for quite sometime now, and Annabel has never felt so alone.
Annabel doesn’t talk to anyone about anything. She keeps it all inside. There is a lot of information given in the first quarter of the novel between past and present and one thing is clear: Annabel keeps a lot in because she believes it is helping to keep her family together and sane. Keeping it together is clearly not healthy for her. Annabel is falling apart and the only person who is there for her, is her classmate Owen Armstrong. Owen is the mysterious bad boy that no one knows a lot about, but one day, when things fall apart he is there for her. He doesn’t push her, he just sit there. Owen also has his own background that is complicated, but he gets through it with music. Music is clearly Owen’s passion.
This was not an easy book for me to read, I actually felt a lot of guilt while reading this. Annabel treated Clark horribly, in part due to Sophie. Sophie in the later years treats Annabel horribly. Or maybe she always treated her horribly and Annabel just noticed right now after sleeping with Sophie’s boyfriend. It seems that Sophie doesn’t actually care about her boyfriend, what Sophie cares about is the popularity that her boyfriend gives her. Of course sleeping with Sophie’s girlfriend turns Annabel into the social outcast. No one talks to her now. No one but Owen. Owen who encourages her to always tell the truth, no matter how hard it is. It’s not that Owen makes Annabel be a better person, but he encourages her to be her true self.
While Annabel finds her true self, so do we, the reader. Not everything is what it seems, in part because Annabel refuses to speak the truth, to anyone. It took me about 40% of the novel to actually warm up to Annabel, I spend so much of the novel annoyed at her, that when I started to like her, it creeped up on me. It was unexpected and I was shocked that I began to have feelings for Annabel. I went from wanting to shake her, to wanting to cry with her. It was amazing how slow that switch occurred also. I know it wasn’t fair to judge Annabel at the beginning, but I did not find her likable or more importantly, I didn’t care about her story. She did begin to grow though, she didn’t necessarily become more likable, I just started to relate to her more and my heart began to go out of her.
The story became more flushed and realistic when Annabel let her guard down and started to be honest with herself, and Owen. Something he encouraged from their very first meeting was that she should be honest, at least with herself and others. But mostly of herself. What she learns is that it is important to tell the truth, than to try and make everyone happy. This is something I still fight with on a daily basis. As many issues as I seemed to have with this novel, I ended up enjoying it. Dessen does have a way with contemporary YA, even if I was in denial about it at the time.