Just Listen

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:

Um, Jake Ryan. Sa-woon

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?

This Lullaby will keep you awake!

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen (moo)

So then what is it about Dexter that makes it so hard for Remy to follow her own rules? He’s everything she hates: messy, disorgan­ized, impulsive, and worst of all, a musician like her father. The father Remy never knew, the one who wrote a famous song for her but dis­appeared from her life. Remy has never had trouble getting out while the getting is good. But there’s just something about Dexter. . . . Could it be that Remy is finally finding out what all those love songs are about?

Sarah Dessen, acclaimed author of Someone Like You and Dreamland, gives readers her most captivating novel yet, as she introduces us to a girl who believes her heart is made of stone and the boy who proves her wrong.

Remy is a self-professed hard-ass.  There’s a place for everything and everything is in its place in her world, including her men.  She dates guys until she thinks, essentially, things are getting too comfy.   Then she lowers the “we need to talk” boom.

At her young age (just graduated high school), Remy has created the idea that all relationships are doomed to fail.  This is in part due to her mother’s numerous marriages (5 to be exact).  Not to mention (watch me get down with my pre-psych self up in da hiz houz) her feelings of abandonment that stem from her famous musician father, a man she never met.  He died of a heart attack when she was just a tiny thing,  but not before writing a song he would be known for in pop culture, the ballad “This Lullaby”.  In the lyrics he expressly wrote for her, he essentially tells her, “I am a good-for-nothing, will always disappoint you, but at least I wrote you this song”.  A song which has become an old favorite in pop culture, which means, she gets to hear it on the overheads of elevators, and in commercials as background, on a fairly regular basis, much to her chagrin.

Slap on top of all that a sad and difficult experience in the boy department during her sophomore year, and call it the last nail on the coffin.  This all is what created a girl who never wants anyone to get too close, because they will ultimately end up hurting her.  So instead she hurts them first and protects her already fragile heart.  Part of her system includes various hard and fast rules about who she’ll consider date-worthy material, and who she won’t.  Example?  No musicians!  (I know you saw that coming.)

Enter Dexter (Dextahhhhhh!).  A funny, carefree musician (say what??? I know…) who doesn’t seem to take anything too seriously.  Remy meets Dexter at a car dealership where she awaits to finalize the last of the wedding details with her newest stepdad-to-be (a car salesman who sells Corollas by the boat load).  Her mother, a writer of romance novels, is too busy writing her newest saga and, as ever, depends on Remy to take care of those pesky little details she just can’t seem to be bothered with.  It is in the midst of this frustrating moment that Dexter, quite literally, bumps into Remy (ouch) and royally ticks her off.

Not discouraged by Remy practically threatening to end his life (the bump really hurt), Dexter decides this crazy beast is the girl for him, and so his pursuit for this feisty girl begins.  Despite Remy’s failed attempts to discourage Dexter, he finally wins her over and a large part of the book is spent with her talking about her game plan to a) not fall in love with the Dex-man (good luck with that sistah…) and b) how/when to break up with him before her departure to Stanford University (yea, she’s a smart one).

In the meanwhile, we get to kick it with Dexter and his band mates who live in this utterly groaty house (they’re all dudes, so it makes sense that they only have one spoon between the 3 of them).  There we see a new Remy, with a slightly smaller stick up her…you know.  A girl amused as she bears witness to contests such as the  “Bet You Can’t Eat 7 Bananas” bet, and listening to the musical musings of his band Truth Squad.  This, BTW, includes “The Potato Opus”, a collection of songs (not one, a collection, party people), that somehow or another come back to the potato, in its many incarnations, including the sweet potato.  Really.  (Loooooooove it!)

You know the emotional shizz is gonna hit the fan when, contrary to the way it went down in past relationships, she keeps putting off the “distancing” portion of her plan deciding that there is still plenty of time to lower the boom.  Hmmmm…

Right from the get go, I was concerned this Remy girl and I were not going to be friends.  She was so negative, so crusty in her shell of man-hate.  But this is where the genius of Sarah Dessen comes into play.  She takes a girl I found to be hardened, sarcastic, jaded, and made her into a character that I could empathize with.  A girl whose vulnerability is plain to see despite her best efforts.  Someone you want to hope the best for.  I’d go as far as to say, I’d even be her friend.

All the characters in this book are thoughtfully written, each of them playing an integral role in who Remy was/is/will be.  Among them, Remy’s brother Chris is a voice of reason where you least expect one.  Her three best friends, Chloe, Lissa, and Jess, all highlight a different facet of Remy’s personality, offering her (and us) different perspectives in various situations.  Her mom who you may first dislike, and then (a classic Dessen move), becomes someone who will surprise.  And, in case I haven’t gushed enough, gotta send some love to my Dexter.  Seemingly incapable of basics such as tying shoe laces and holding down a decent job, he turns out to be a wise soul who sees straight through Remy.  The fact that, despite all her walls, Dexter can peer inside Remy’s heart and see love is incredibly alarming to Remy.  To the reader its a glimmer of hope where one is sorely needed.  She will have to decide if she is willing to risk what she has been protecting for so long for the sake of this wonderful guy.  Sigh.  Good stuff, friends.

Crush Level:

4.75/5– All in all, on many levels, this was a wonderful book.  Yay Sarah!  I’ll say this much: after Mother’s day breakfast, flowers, cards, and a bike ride, my beloved asked, “So now what do you want to do on your day?”  Silliest question I ever heard.  So we put out some snacks, he tossed the baseball with mah babies in our yard, and I sat and read this book in one sitting only pausing for dinner and bedtime rituals.  Best mother’s day everrrrrrr.  I loved this book and I just couldn’t put it down.  The reason I nicked .25 from my crush?  I get that there is a purpose behind Remy’s self-deprecating ways, that there is a level of self-hate there that she has to work through, but she called herself a byotch just one too many times for me.  Maybe I just needed her to call herself something else, and that would have made the diff.  Like you know, switch it up to “I’m a crazy-boy-hating-ninja”.  Just sayin.  All in all though, this book does what most Dessen books do for me.  It put me in the middle of feelings I’ve felt before, I could practically be in the book, having a Zip drink (real life translation: Slurpee) with friends at the local Quik Zip (translation: the 7 Eleven) feeling like this was my last summer before college.

How I see it:

Kristen Kreuk...not a very accurate Remy, but this is what the brain eyes saw.

Remy: Ok, I will confess, I was utterly distracted picturing Dexter, to really think of what anyone else look like.  And truth be told, I have some sort of bizarre bias that makes me default to brunettes for most of my literary characters.  No offense.  Some of my dearest friends are blondes. I wanted a Remy that was soft and vulnerable looking, and gorgeous – which we are told she is – but that could kick some arse when needed.  Except it would come out of left field because she’s petite and pretty.  Also, she has to have good hair.  She works in a hair salon, you know.

Charlie McDermott is tote's my Dexter

Dexter: The man without the plan, but always seeing the bright side.  Love him.  He sounds messy in every way, and yet you still are ok if he wants to hug you.  Cuz he’s just so cute.  (And funny, never underestimate the power of funny).  Charlie McDermott has got those messy black curls that need a hair cut, but you wouldn’t dare chop off, and as he has proven in his performance in “The Middle”, he can be a funny slob.  I couldn’t resist but to typecast!