A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sarah Dessen's Just Listen involves a teen girl, Annabel, struggling to recover from a traumatic experience she had at the beginning of the summer and dreading her approaching junior year of high school. Teens will find it easy to root for Annabel and her love interest Owen, who are absorbing and unique characters. They'll appreciate the author's message about the value of honesty, and cheer when Annabel is finally able to express herself. There's a fair amount of swearing, drinking, and smoking by teens, and an attempted rape is described in flashback. A teen girl has an eating disorder.
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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?
This angst-filled, moving novel is so engrossing it's truly difficult to put down. Thanks to author Sara Dessen's exquisite attention to detail, each moment in Just Listen is rendered so clearly and vividly that readers can easily enter Annabel's world: her misery at school and home, her inability to deal forthrightly with any of her problems, and her developing relationship with troubled outcast Owen. The characters are equally vivid, especially menacing Owen, with his bizarre musical tastes, theories, and unusual life outside school. He's a real original. And all of the main and secondary characters have an intriguing emotional complexity usually missing in teen problem novels.
Though Dessen doesn't reveal the pivotal event until near the end, most readers will have figured it out almost from the beginning. Still, it's a testament to her skill that despite the fact that for large stretches not much happens, this is a real page-turner.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk abut the importance of consent and how sexual assault is portrayed and dealt with in Just Listen. Why would someone feel she had to keep such an experience a secret?
Just Listen has been a best-seller since it came out. Why do you think it continues to be so popular?
Compare Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak with Just Listen. How are they similar? Are they both realistic?
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