Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Last year, Annabel was “the girl who has everything”—at least that’s the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf’s Department Store.This year, she’s the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong. Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help,maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.
Here’s the scoop:
Annabel has had a tough summer. She’s done something pretty bad and now her former best friend—the uber popular and totally bishy, Sophie—has desserted her. Now Annabel has gone from being part of the in-crowd (Gorgeous? Check. Cool modeling career? Check. Popularity? Check. Would I hate her? Um, probably.) to being a complete nobody. To make matters worse, her mom is pushing the whole modeling thing like her life depends on it. Annabel really isn’t interested, but she does it anyway. She doesn’t stand up for herself at all—not when Sophie is saying terrible things about her, not when her mom is being like one of those terrible Toddlers in Tiaras moms. She doesn’t say a word.
Now that Annabel sits in the outcast area at lunch, she notices Owen. He’s a tall, hulking bit of man who is crazy obsessed with music. Owen keeps to himself, always drowning out the world with his iPod. As she begins to get to know him, Annabel find that Owen is different from her. He’s totally open about his issues and his past struggles with anger, and about pretty much everything (though not in an obnoxious, verbal diarrhea way. It’s refreshing). Through this new friendship, the truth about Annabel’s life slowly unfolds: her apathy over her modeling career, the frightening and painful reality of her older sister, Whitney’s, anorexia, and just what happened to make Sophie hate her so much. Owen, with his commitment to telling the absolute truth, helps her see that it’s okay to be honest, that life isn’t always picture perfect and that sometimes the best you can do is just be who you are.
As always, Sarah Dessen is able to touch on realistic issues without the topics feeling morbid or depressing. The big secret of what Annabel has done is nothing too terribly scandalous, but the weight of guilt she feels and the impact it’s had on her so-called friends is told to perfection. In the long run, it may not be a life-ending incident, but it’s the kind that feels that way when you’re in high school and everything hinges on your friends. At the same time, the details of Whitney’s physical and emotional deterioration are told with such frank simplicity. It’s frightening and sad, but Dessen always finds a way to show hope. In this case, she does so with Annabel’s family (those sisterly bonds that I, as an only child, am so fascinated by) and with her new friend/resident hot guy, Owen.
Owen is the calm in the midst of Annabel’s stormy life; her “friend” issues, her regrets, her mom’s expectations, and her concerns about Whitney. There is a real sweetness to their relationship, which develops slowly from a friendship to something more. Throughout the book, Owen is a solid force surrounding and protecting Annabel. He’s the first to admit he isn’t perfect, but it’s his weaknesses that have molded him into such a great guy. Through his anger management meetings he’s learned to tell the truth and to embrace what he loves in life. It’s this outlook that she tries to share with Annabel.
Crush Intensity: 4/5 It’s Sarah Desseny goodness all the way around.
The Way I See It:
This is totally how I pictured Owen (minus the vest). Tall, bulky but not fat, dark-haired and cute without being a pretty boy (wow. Do you think I’ve thought about this just a little bit?). I totally think he’d return her undies if he found them because, you know, he’s an honest guy.
I have no other casting because what could top this?