I hope you are having a good week and can relax with the summer!
Just Listen is the first Sarah Dessen book I have read (and be assured, it won't be the last) and I had heard so many positive reactions from her books that I was really happy to find the occasion to read one for the Body Image and Self Perception Month. Again, if you want more information on the Month, visit Jo's blog at Once Upon a Bookcase.
Summary from Amazon:
I'm Annabel. I'm the girl who has it all. Model looks, intelligence, a great social life. I'm one of the lucky ones. Aren't I? My 'best friend' Sophie is spreading rumours about me. My family is slowly falling apart. It's turning into a long, lonely summer, full of secrets and silence. But I've met this guy who won't let me hide away. He's one of those intense types, obsessed with music and totally unafraid of confrontation. He's determined to make me listen. Will I ever find the courage to tell him what really happened the night Sophie and I stopped being friends?
I am aware that this is the third book (out of four) of my Body Image and Self Perception Month selection that features a young girl modelling as a main character, as if only aspirant models had eating disorders and body-related traumas... But this story is incredibly beautiful and so well written that I have been entirely entranced from the very beginning.
The story is told from the point of view of Annabel, the youngest of three sisters that have been modelling on a local scale ever since they were toddlers. The eldest sister Kirsten is very dynamic and bubbly, while the second Whitney is more moody and withdrawn. Annabel, the youngest, tries not to disturb her family by doing what she is expected to do.
Annabel was friends with Clarke for several years, but one summer, she
falls under the tyranny befriends Sophie, and her entire life changes. Sophie is the typical evil girl who thinks way too much about her own worth and believes everyone should be in awe in front of her. She isolates Annabel from her other friends and makes her an accomplice of her actions. It is not in Annabel's personality to start, and even less participate in, conflicts, so she stays behind Sophie because being against her would be way worse. One summer, Annabel's precarious world falls apart because of an unnamed (but quite predictable and later disclosed) reason. Sophie suddenly hates her and since she had no other friends, Annabel finds herself facing high school by herself.
Annabel is also haunted, at home, by the eating disorder of her sister Whitney and the fragility of her mother after the death of her own mother. The three sisters are very different one from the other and hardly communicate. It is interesting to read as their behaviours towards one another shift slowly and where they learn to love themselves for who they are.
I liked the character of Kirsten but I was fascinated by Whitney and how she fights (or doesn't) her eating disorder. I found that the theme was well brought into the story and it looked like any real-life story of people I knew. It was interesting to read which treatments are given and the different possibilities a person chooses to heal with.
She meets Owen, the guy with a slight anger management issue who is seen as a complete beast in school. Outcast herself, she gets to know him, his fascination for music and his brutal honesty. I loved how they were so different but so alike and how they help each other go through their bad reputations at school. No matter how people see them or what they might have done in the past, Owen and Annabel are just people trying to do what they can under the circumstances (I'm quoting Owen).
I believe that the strongest message in this book is to never bottle up inside your feelings or some events that occured in your life. Talking, sharing, debatting about something is the best way to put it into perspective or find closure. Families and friends are made for this and Annabel tries to shield them from the truth but hurts herself in the process.
Telling people also makes whatever it is real, which is why, sometimes, it is harder said than done. Not talking about something is the best way to persuade oneself that it never happened and that less people know, the easiest it is to forget. From what I have read, and from experience, it never works. Ever. At all. The secret eats you from the inside and makes you walk through life as if a grim reaper was hanging over your head waving hello. Or maybe I am being overdramatic. Owen's advice is to be honest and just let it out.
Annabel sees herself as a person lying about her feelings in order not to hurt people. The perception she has of herself has been plagued by the people surrounding her and some events. Because she is too caring, she forgets herself for the others. Sarah Dessen has the incredible talent to write Annabel's story and how she decides to live her life.
I have been completely blown away by this book and Sarah Dessen's story-telling and characters. I cried like a baby during the second half of the book. Not that I would ever admit it. I would advise this book to everyone reading YA and interested in character-driven stories which present some diversity in them. You might also like the issues of eating disorder, rape, as well as the importance of studying and talking to others.
I will be reading all Sarah Dessen's other books and probably reread this one. Which probably tells you a lot more than anything I have written above.