Perfect for parents, too, who want to listen...
One of the beautiful things about reading is that you can remember what it was like to be a certain age. Even though I didn't grow up with I-pods and CDs, some things never change, like the power of friendships and music. I'm grateful to Dessen for helping me remember what it was like to be an adolesclent: awkward, self-conscious, hypersensitive. These aspects of the text helped me connect up more with my own 14 year old daughter, since it's been so long since I've been one, myself. Equally sympathetic was the character of Owen. I thought the text, although stereotypical in this respect, showed him struggling with his anger, and channelling that energy into more productive and ultimately more satisfying activities, like playing music for a community radio station under the program name of "Anger Management," in a wonderful twist on an old, tired theme. Externalizing anger like this is a good way to deal with those demons. You go, Owen!
Other things I like about the book is that Annabel is a completely sympathetic character. As a middle child, she's got it rough, and tries to become invisible, something girls (no matter where they are in the sibling order) have to resist doing. I also like how Dessen wove the theme of finding one's voice into the text, showing that it isn't about "just listening." This becomes even more trenchant when couple with the notion of rape, and how rape victims were often threatened with having their tongues cut out if they ever "told" their stories. Whitney's eating disorder was sensitively drawn, and I like how the narrative showed the actual steps Whitney took to overcome her illness, and about the power of writing, again, to externalize these demons. Reading about it might help a young girl overcome the disorder, in a similar way. It didn't romanticize anorexia/bulimia, or use it gratuitously. I liked how Dessen evened out the whole modelling, "lookism" thing with some real-life, negative narrative commentary about how things are so commercialized and product-oriented in our culture.
I particularly like how the book ended on a hopeful note. Overall, this is an intelligent read with all kinds of things to please the progressive parent who reads it. While it's clear the writing is a little immature, it's also clear that Dessen is a GOOD writer, and that comes through loud and clearly. This is a tougher world than the one I grew up in, and there's a lot young adults have to negotiate. I thank Dessen for helping put me back in touch with my inner adolescent, and for giving me new ways to talk to my daughter -- by just listening. It's my turn to be quiet now.