Sunday, January 3, 2010

Just Listen, Sarah Dessen

"Annabel Greene, who narrates, lives with her gorgeous sisters in a glass house designed by their architect father, in Dessen's familiar suburb of Lakeview. Predictably, the surface perfection masks trouble. Oldest sister Kirsten, 'the family powder keg,' has left for New York. When middle sister Whitney follows to pursue a modeling career, the two clash, and Whitney returns home with a full-blown eating disorder. Their mother, Grace, operates in what Annabel wryly calls the 'default Greene family mode,' pretending everything is just fine. Annabel, who inherited this trait, nevertheless begins her junior year as a pariah. Flashbacks reveal that her unwanted status is the result of something that happened with the boyfriend of her ex-best friend, a vicious girl who believes 'everyone had a place and it was her job to make sure you knew yours.' What moves this story beyond problem novel fare is Dessen's nuanced characters, especially hulking Owen, another outcast who, in befriending Annabel, reminds her not to judge by appearances, while steeping her in his eclectic musical tastes. Annabel sharply observes everyone's blinders, including most of her own — with one disturbing exception. The heroine paints her problem as social ostracism, when really the situation is much more serious. But since Annabel '[doesn't] do confrontations,' she swallows the truth until her attacker victimizes someone else. Comparisons to Melinda, the heroine of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, are inevitable. Dessen packs a lot into this novel, perhaps too much; but Annabel and Owen's finely limned connection alone gives this novel staying power." - Publisher's Weekly

Nora read Speak a few weeks ago and after discussing it with her I remembered Just Listen. I read this last year and enjoyed it but as is usual felt is paled in comparison with Laurie Halse Anderson. What hit me the most on a second reading is how much I liked Owen. The scenes with Owen and his younger sister, Mallory, were really well done. I have a big stack of Sarah Dessen books from Costco that I need to dig into.

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