Continuing with my Sarah Dessen adventure this week is Just Listen. Annabel is the “girl who has everything”, until a misunderstanding happens between her and her best friend, Sophie. Readers will quickly discover that the girl who has everything faces many struggles. With the help of a reformed bad boy, Owen, will she be able to tell the truth?
Ok, so the plot sounds like something out of a 13 year-old’s daydream, but the book is actually pretty good. Some cool ideas I picked up were the importance of listening, fake friends, and the glass house (*spoilers alert).
I just do the best I can under the circumstances.
Refer to the Title
There comes a time when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you’d better learn the sound of it. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying.
So the book is called Just Listen, and these two little words kept popping up throughout the book – not very subtle, but meh. Again, Dessen’s protagonists always waver between respectfully admirable and frustratingly annoying for me. Annabel has a tendency to not tell the truth, not because she wants to be a liar, but because she wants to avoid conflict. This caused me to roll my eyes out at several points because my mind was yelling, “Just say it, my god.” Especially with some of the issues Annabel has to deal with, I find it ridiculous that she decides to keep it all inside when nothing is even her fault.
Perhaps it is because of this that the quality of truly listening is refreshing in this book. And when I say this, I mean listening to yourself. Many of the characters in this book are willing to listen to Annabel and her troubles, she is the one who doesn’t say anything- hence, nobody really knows anything is wrong.
You can’t always expect people to notice something is wrong and force it out of you. Sometimes you have to listen to yourself and say it aloud, even if nobody asks.
If someone is really close with you, your getting upset or them getting upset is okay, and they don’t change because of it. It’s just part of the relationship. It happens. You deal with it.
So Sophie is kind of a bitch, and that idea was established from the first few chapters. She has that whole Regina George thing going on- she’s exciting and fun, but mean and judgmental, even to her own friends. Annabel enjoys the perks of being her friend, but she never forgets how rude Sophie was when they first met. That rudeness never really went away.
Dessen kind of leaves Sophia as a 2D character. We know she has some family issues, and she probably gets annoyed at how Annabel is never honest (Sophie probably feels like she is talking to a wall), but I have little sympathy for her.
The point is that Sophie belittles her friends. She makes them feel small, stupid, and fear her. That is not what friends should be doing to each other. You get enough criticism from yourself and strangers around; your friends should be there to support you. Cut these kinds of people out of your life, you don’t need those negative vibes.
I thought again how you could never really know what you were seeing with just a glance, in motion, passing by. Good or bad, right or wrong. There was always so much more.
Annabel’s family lives in a glass house. People can clearly see inside certain rooms when they are driving by. This is a pretty cool symbol since her family seems to be a perfect one: three gorgeous blonde sisters who all modeled at one point, and a caring mother and father. But just by glancing in, you won’t know that Whitney still suffers from the effects of an eating disorder and that she and Kristen have fought about it for years ever since, or that Annabel’s mom has a past involving depression… or that Annabel was raped (C’mon Annabel, that is something pretty important to say).
But I liked that Dessen touched on the topic that you never really know what kind of battles people are fighting, even if it seems like you have a crystal clear view. And just like how the three sisters re-arrange themselves to form different centers, each person shifts over time. People can be weak when they are struggling, and they can also become stronger. You never stay weak for your entire life and at the same time, you are never constantly strong.
So don’t expect people to always have the courage to fight through it, and don’t expect people to always need you watching over them either. Just listen to them first (ha-ha).
P.P.S. It was pretty cool for Dessen to include characters from her previous book into this one! Makes me want to visit that waffle house for real.