Author: Sarah Dessen
Genre/Pages: YA Fiction/384
Rating: 3 Bookmarks
Nat’s One-Sentence Synopsis: Annabel Greene seems to have it all, but upon closer inspection readers can see the cracks the seemingly perfect facade.
This is my third or fourth Sarah Dessen novel–I’m always on the lookout for quality YA books to recommend to my students–but for some reason, her books don’t resonate with me as a reader. She’s a wildly popular and successful author, and her teenage characters are authentic, but I just don’t love her books.
Just Listen tells the story of Annabel Greene, the youngest of three sisters, with a seemingly glamorous modeling career, solid home life, and popularity beyond measure. As the new school year starts, things begin to unravel as she realizes she doesn’t want to model anymore, her older sisters are both struggling with their own demons, and she’s a social pariah after a dark event that occurred at a party last spring.
Dessen does capture an authentic teenage voice in Annabel and her portrayal of adolescent pressures, social hierarchies, and familial and friendship dynamics are all spot on, which makes my tepid appreciation for these novels even more flummoxing.
Maybe it’s because the deep, dark event from last spring has been played out more successfully in other novels, and that I never felt any real tension between Annabel and Owen, her confidant and love interest. Owen was touted as a loner with a troubled past, but he seemed to be a very watered down version of Marcus Flutie, of Jessica Darling fame.
The novel covers important social issues without glossing over them, and the conflicts and themes are appropriate for YA (and beyond) audiences. Dessen wrote some really nice passages about sisterhood and family and there are themes that even reluctant readers–like some of my students–could readily recognize and relate to.
I’m not ready to throw in the towel on Dessen’s works–I still recommend them to my students–but hope her upcoming release, What Happened to Goodbye (May, 2011) is a better read for me.