So I’m very embarrassed to say, I didn’t catch on right away.
What the heck am I talking about, you might ask? Well, the fact that Sarah Dessen makes connections between her books. Characters from previous books can make cameo appearances, and various locations make appearances too. For example, in Just Listen, Annabel finds a Truth Squad CD in Owen’s Car. Annabel also is a model for the Lakeview models (mentioned in That Summer). Scarlett from Someone Like You makes an appearance in This Lullaby. Jackson High and Perkins Day are often mentioned,the Arbors and Bendo reappear often too. How cool is that? And here I was, this whole time, in lala land, completely oblivious to this fact until, as I was reading Just Listen, I noticed that I recognized the Arbors, and Truth Squad, and Jackson High, and thought – why do those things all sound familiar? Don’t I just feel so ridiculous right now, hahaha, oops! Now that I am aware of these connections, I will definitely be paying closer attention! Now onto my review.
Looking into the Greene’s glass house, one would get the impression of a perfect family, with perfect daughters that have it all. But to Annabel, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Her best friend Sophie doesn’t talk to her anymore, her sisters aren’t speaking since Whitney started suffering from an eating disorder, but most of all, Annabel has this secret, and if it came out, it would irrevocably change her whole world.
I feel like I’ve gone too heavy on the characters in my last reviews, so today I will focus on another aspect: topics/themes. I’m going to come right off the bat and say that I can’t help but feel as if Just Listen is a little crowded with its themes and topics. Now don’t get me wrong, I liked this book, and I like that there isn’t just one dimension to it, but rather many layers. However, I think it’s maybe because the topics are so heavy that you end up feeling a little overwhelmed reading.
With that being said, I like the message the Dessen sends to young girls through her novel – that appeareances aren’t everything, you know, don’t judge a book by its cover? She really homes in that behind every happy face could be someone struggling:
I wanted to tell her, right then, that this wasn’t true. That I was far from the girl who had everything; that I wasn’t even that girl in the pictures, if I ever had been. No one’s life was really like that, one glorious moment after another, especially mine.
You really tend to see this theme run through her characters – Whitney, Kirsten, Owen, Annabel – they are all not who or what they seem, and you really need to get to know them (in our case, by reading), to get to see the real them.
Bullying is another present theme throughout the book. Mean girls come in every shape and size, and in Just Listen, Sophie is no different. When Annabel describes their first encounters and the circumstances under which they become friends, you can’t help but feel bad for her. After all, being the new kid in town and making new friends is hard. Yet, the more you get to know Sophie, the more you hate her (I know I did), especially towards the end, when you find out Annabel’s secret. I confess, when I read about Sophie, I pictured every single mean girl I’ve encountered over the years. Unfortunately, you can never really escape them; I’ve come across quite a few mean girls in my adult years too.
I also feel like this book implicitly (or maybe not so subtly) sends a message about making yourself heard. Although the title is Just Listen, you soon come to learn that it is not just about hearing what others have to say, but about speaking out and making others truly hear you too. It’s also about choosing your words to convey truly how you feel, instead of hiding behind omissions or “placeholders” (as Owen likes to say).
Finally, it seems that once again, Sarah Dessen did not shy away from writing about a difficult topics, among which include Grace Greene’s depression, and Whitney’s anorexia. However, the big one, I can’t talk about it without giving anything away, so I’ll put it in white here, and you can highlight it if you’d really like to know (I do really hate to spoil). This story also deals with sexual harassment and rape, and the psychological warfare rape victims deal with. I won’t go into that much more detail other than to say that although you may be uncomfortable with reading about such topics, ignore your instincts to run away and face them (another wonderful message Sarah Dessen conveys, I might add). Without going into too much of the horrifying details, Dessen paints the picture well – the feelings of utter helplessness and shame, as well as finding the courage to stand up and face your problems. Many of the characters in this book come across such a challenge, and I think they set quite a good example to young girls out there.
All in all, it comes as no surprise that I recommend this book, like all of her others. I have yet to come across one that I don’t like. However, I wouldn’t recommend this book to young teens (it is a little PG-13), it’s not an easy read, as it covers very sensitive issues. However, I think this is also a book that every girl should read, and they would hopefully really learn from it. I don’t know about you, but I think we could all become a little more stronger for reading it – I can see why it’s a favourite.
The Struggling Librarian