Just Listen

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Just Listen Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Teen girl struggles following trauma in riveting novel.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 12 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 93 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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.

Positive Messages

Be honest and work to find and accept your true self. It's important to face conflicts head-on rather than avoid them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

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 teen protagonists, 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.  


An attempted rape described in flashback. A few punches and a mention of castration.  


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.

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. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byDawnslight03 April 20, 2010

Magnificent read for freshmen and up....

This book is very well-written, and Dessen does a wonderful job covering difficult topics. She handles an attempted rape with a conservative intelligence. Altho... Continue reading
Parent of a 12-year-old Written byHopeinJC February 19, 2010
Not at all appropriate for middle schoolers and I am angry
my 7th grader's literature teacher is recommending it to all the girls.
Teen, 13 years old Written bytaraturtle February 12, 2010

Great book for kids over 13!

I loved this book. Annabel and Owen form an unlikely friendship and it teaches kids to talk about their problems. My only concerns are the rape, but that also t... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bymoxie_28 January 3, 2021

Tame description does not match disturbing book

Note: this review is mostly my opinion of the book. The book does not match the description/cover. You will likely enjoy the book at first, but the ending will... Continue reading

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?

Book details

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