Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Review - Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Summary: (from the back cover) Annabel Greene is the girl who has everything. At least, that’s what she portrayed in her modeling shoots. But Annabel’s life is far from perfect. Her friendship with Sophie ended bitterly, and her older sister’s eating disorder is weighing down the entire family. Isolated and ostracized at school and at home, Annabel retreats into silent acceptance. Then she meets Owen—intense, music-obsessed, and determined to always tell the truth. And with his guidance, Annabel learns to just listen to herself and gains the courage to speak honestly. But will she be able to tell everyone what really happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends?

Review: Before I get into anything else, I must preface this review by confessing how much I wanted to like this book. I had never read anything by Sarah Dessen before and was very excited at the prospect of finally making my introduction to the work of someone with such esteemed YA-lit cred. Plenty of my personal friends have raved about her work and finally I had the chance to find out why.

After finishing the book Just Listen, all I can say is that I’m more than a bit disappointed. For me the book was just okay…and maybe not even that. Looking at the plot, I would have to sum it up as nothing more than what any second-rate Lifetime screenwriter could have come up to fill a slot in the channel’s back-to-school marathon special. I realize this might seem a little too harsh, seeing as how there were parts of the book that were enjoyable, but honestly the plot relied a little too heavily on the melodrama to make up for the fact that it was all a little too routine.

The main issue Dessen decides to deal with in the book is certainly important. She even tries to be as realistic as possible, drawing up Annabel as someone who opts to be silent about her problem, which to be sure is a hard approach since we’re all smitten with butt-kicking, retribution-seeking bitches like Veronica Mars (Veronica Mars) and Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but having likened Annabel’s response to that of Melinda Sordino (Speak), I was expecting to be emotionally stirred by the inner struggles of a narrator tortured by the memories of such a violent experience. As readers we all have certain expectations and are used to certain privileges, like being privy to our narrator’s emotions and thoughts. We want to know how they feel because that’s how we develop our relationships with them. That was missing here; at least it was missing for me. Annabel was hurt and responded by retracting into herself, but Dessen pulled back a little too far, to the point where it no longer supported the story and actually hinder it. I couldn’t relate or grieve for Annabel because she just didn’t let me.

The rest of the plot, including the teen romance and the high school drama, also fell very neatly into that same Lifetime-ish format. And if I have to be completely frank, I would have to say that my age has been a factor in the way I’ve responded here. I really do believe a lot less would have been problematic had I been a little bit younger and less exposed other fictional works that take the Just Listen trajectory. Finally, I’d have to say that I wouldn’t mind it in the least if the publication of these types of novels took a slight downturn in the next few years so that I wouldn’t have to run into any more of them accidentally any time soon.

Alas, I have not given up on Sarah Dessen just yet, and am willing to take any suggestions about which one of her other books I might enjoy a little bit more.

Lit Snit Verdict: C

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