Just Listen Book Poster Image

Just Listen



Teen angst and serious issues; best for mature teens.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

This book sheds light on the reality that things are not always as they seem, particularly in the lives of teenagers. Readers will gain insight into and learn to grapple with certain anxieties of being a teen. Just Listen follows the main character through her turbulent journey to finding her true self. Readers will find themselves absorbed in this story, and may look to Sara Dessen's Web site to learn about some of her other books.

Positive messages

Though there is a lot of unhappiness in this novel, its message is centered on honesty and accepting one's true self. Just Listen also demonstrates the importance of facing conflicts head-on rather than avoiding them.

Positive role models

Annabel and Owen prove to be a truly inspiring pair as the two complement each other along the road to achieving personal growth. Owen, back from anger management classes, has learned the importance of honesty, and encourages Annabel to open her eyes and discover the same. Annabel and Owen aren't your typical heroine and hero, but they are absorbing and unique. Readers will find it easy to relate to them and root for them -- especially as Annabel is able to express herself more easily.


The protagonist is the victim of an attempted rape, which is central to the plot. The rape scene may prove to be rather descriptive for young readers. A few punches and a mention of castration can be found in the novel as well.


Some kissing and making out, references to teens who have had sex.


Four-letter words and sexual slurs.


Clothing, mp3 player, car, soft drink brands mentioned.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Teens drink and smoke, some drunkenness.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the central event of the plot is an attempted, though ultimately unsuccessful, rape. There's also a fair amount of swearing, drinking, and smoking by teens, and another character has an eating disorder. But teens will find it easy to root for Annabel and Owen, who  aren't your typical heroine and hero, but are absorbing and unique. They will appreciate the author's message about the value of honesty, and cheer when Annabel is able to express herself.

What's the story?

Annabel's life looks pretty good. She has a loving family, lives in a beautiful home, and is a successful teen model. But her junior year of high school is looking to be the worst year of her life. Her mother has been fragile and depressed since the death of her own mother. Her sisters are fighting all the time, and one of them is hostile and dangerously anorexic. Annabel wants to quit modeling, but is afraid to tell her mother. And she has lost all of her friends because of something that happened at the beginning of the summer that she is unable to talk about, and that her classmates and former friends have drastically misunderstood. The only person who will talk to her is Owen, a loner with a juvenile record, anger management issues, and strange taste in music. But there's one thing he knows all about -- how to be honest.

Is it any good?


Until near the end, this is an almost plotless book, and it covers pretty familiar territory. Most of it is about Annabel's misery at school and home, her inability to deal forthrightly with any of her problems, and her developing relationship with troubled outcast Owen. Though the author doesn't reveal the pivotal event until near the end, most readers will have figured it out almost from the beginning. So how, then, can this novel be so completely engrossing, so difficult to put down, and ultimately so moving, not only to the teen girls who are its target audience, but to anyone?

Part of the secret lies in the author's exquisite attention to detail. Each moment is rendered so clearly and vividly that readers can easily enter Annabel's world. The characterizations are equally vivid, especially of menacing Owen who, with his bizarre musical tastes and theories and his unusual life outside school, is a real original. In all of the main and secondary characters, there's an intriguing emotional complexity that is usually missing in teen problem novels. It may seem odd to say it about a book in which, for large stretches, so little actually happens, but this is a real page-turner.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the praise this book received. It was, among other things, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a New York Times Best Seller. Why do you think it was so popular? Do book awards -- or how many copies it has sold -- impact you in any way?

  • What made you pick this book up -- did you know about how popular this book was before you read it?

  • Teens who have also read Lori Halse Anderson's Speak might want to compare and contrast the two. Both books deal with a teen girl who finds it hard to express herself after a rape (in Annabel's case, an attempted rape). Do you find the books to be similar in other ways? Are these stories realistic?

Book details

Author:Sarah Dessen
Genre:Contemporary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Penguin Group
Publication date:May 7, 2006
Number of pages:371
Publisher's recommended age(s):12

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Teen, 13 years old Written bySosie98 April 3, 2011

Just Listen and Keep Listening!!!

This book is deep and seriously great.If you ever want a book that's dramatic, funny, and definitely sad, this is the one for you. I would absolutely reccomend it to a friend. The messages are great, and Whitney's overcoming of her eating disorder shows that anything is possible, as well as Annabel's admission during the trial of Will Cash. Owen is a great support system and shows that sometimes great friends come in weird packages. I would not reccomend this to younger kids however, because it definitely is a little iffy for a younger age. I did put a highlight as educational because I think it educates children on bad decisions and other things they might need to know for high school.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 14 years old Written byerinl_2008 July 15, 2010


Loved this book! SO much!
Adult Written bywildsoftbal0614 April 9, 2008

I seriously could not put this book down!

I usually am not much of a reader but for some reason i bought this book. When i started reading it, i just couldn't stop! I read it in one weekend, which is pretty amazing for me! It is a really great book I would recommend it to all girls around 16-25. It is sooo good!