Sunday, May 2, 2010

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Though I'm not much for teen fiction books, Sarah Dessen is one of my favorite authors to read. I started reading her in eighth grade (if I remember correctly) with Dreamland, then went on to This Lullaby, That Summer and then Someone Like You and The Truth About Forever. Her books are entertaining, funny and thoughtful, and while her writing isn't always the most descriptive, her stories resonate with readers. Though my favorite book remains This Lullaby, Just Listen does come in a close second.

This book is about a girl named Annabel. She's a reluctant model with seemingly the perfect life- though things are far from perfect. Her middle sister Whitney struggles with an eating disorder, and after a party in which she had a bad encounter with her former friend Sophie's boyfriend, Will, Sophie's set out to make her life hell. However, through it all, Annabel finds comfort, friendship and then love from an unlikely source- Owen Armstrong, a music junkie going through anger management. Through him and his friend Rollie, she re-connects with her former best friend Clarke and finds strength within herself- the strength to tell others the truth and to just listen to herself.

This book was challenged at the Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida in 2007; it was considered "too intense" for teens. Chairperson Jennifer Faliero even ventured as far as to call the book "repulsive," because of its dealing with an attempted rape. Now, I wouldn't call the book's dealings with it "repulsive" in the least; rather, Dessen shows female readers through Annabel and another victim of Will's, Emily, that this crime is not the girl's fault and moreover that you can find the strength to go on after something like this happens. Like it or not, there are plenty of Will Cash characters out there in real life who prey on girls and then act innocent, as though they were minding their own business when the girl "came on to them." It's infuriating, but true, and no amount of book censoring is going to change that; rather, it may just let the real-life culprits believe they can continue getting away with it.

In short, I'd recommend this and any of Dessen's books to teenage girls and young women. Dessen writes stories that the female reader can relate to, as well as being entertained by them.

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