Book Review: Just Listen – Sarah Dessen


Title: Just Listen (2006)
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Viking Books
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 371 pages
Release Date: April 6, 2006
Rating: ★★★★★

Goodreads Description

Last year, Annabel was “the girl who has everything” — at least that’s the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf’s Department Store.

This year, she’s the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong.

Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.


I first picked up Just Listen as a teen — I was maybe 14 or 15, going through middle school and totally blind to the ways of the world. A friend let me borrow her copy and from then on, my life was forever changed. Sounds too dramatic? Well, this book solidified my friendship with her and she’s still one of my closest friends now, so I’d say nope, just realistic. It is also one of my favourite books of all-time, so I’m warning you now: this review is basically 100% praise and appreciation. 😛

Just Listen is the story of Annabel, youngest daughter of an ambitious mother, a model who doesn’t really want to be one, and ex-best friend of Sophie, the most popular girl at her school. We follow her as she goes back to school after an incident that leaves her ostracised by Sophie (and all of her classmates). In her isolation she meets Owen, a reformed ‘bad boy’ slash loner who helps her navigate these ~difficult times~ in her life.

“I just…I don’t always say what I feel.”
“Why not?”
“Because the truth sometimes hurts,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “So do lies, though.”

Annabel is what I’d call a quintessential Dessen girl: quiet and lonely, somewhat damaged, somewhat unsure of herself. She has a trouble of telling the truth, believing that the truth will only hurt and people are better off not knowing. In this book, she learns to stand up for herself, to take more control of her own life, and to get to know herself — it’s a very refreshing change, and she’s a very likeable, relatable character. 💖

Yet it’s not Annabel but Owen who is the highlight of this book for me. In fact, the whole concept of ‘book boyfriends’ is lost on me except when it comes to this guy right here. He just treats Annabel with so much kindness: he’s patient with her when she’s uncertain, he pushes her to do better, he’s respectful of her boundaries, and he’s always, always honest with her. I’ve never seen a fictional teenage boyfriend more mature and lovable than he.

“This is the problem with dealing with someone who is actually a good listener. They don’t jump in on your sentences, saving you from actually finishing them, or talk over you, allowing what you do manage to get out to be lost or altered in transit. Instead, they wait, so you have to keep going.”

Dessen’s writing style is actually kind of hard for me to describe. A word for it, I think, will be quiet — it’s simple, it doesn’t wax poetic, but it’s beautiful, layered and reflective. Our character could be looking out the window, eating alone, or lying in bed, and suddenly this very activity she’s doing has a deeper, bigger meaning. This might not be for everyone, but I loved it. Everything is a symbol — every sentence has its meaning. It kind of encourages you (well, me) to look beyond what’s visible.

I admit: the nostalgia factor is a huge reason why I read, and re-read, and re-read Dessen’s books. Anyone who reads more than three of her books will know that she has a formula:

  • Girl from a damaged/dysfunctional family meets Guy, who seems larger than life
  • Guy and Girl become friends, usually with Girl’s reluctance
  • Guy helps Girl sort out her issues
  • All is well for a while
  • Guy’s personal issues then surface and shake their relationship up
  • Girl, now wiser, helps Guy solve his issues
  • All is well again, this time possibly forever

I don’t deny that reading too many of her books in a short time might be boring. You might feel like you’re reading the same stories over and over again, with the character names and situations changed a little. But to me, it’s familiar instead of repetitive, and every time I read her books, Just Listen in particular, I find something new to love about it. It could be a scene that I didn’t use to pay much attention to, or a character that I didn’t feel play that big of a part. Because everything has a meaning, the whole book is full of new discoveries for me and it keeps me entertained every time I read it.

“There comes a time when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you’d better learn the sound of it. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying.”

I could probably write 5,000 more words on this and turn it into like a ‘why Sarah Dessen is the best thing since sliced bread’ essay, but I don’t want to bore you, so to close off, I’ll just say this: READ THIS BOOK, GUYS. You won’t regret it. 💖

45 thoughts on “Book Review: Just Listen – Sarah Dessen

  1. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about Sarah Dressen and her books, so I am definitely going to have to give this a try. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ❤


  2. Wonderful review! I’ve not read any books by Sarah Dessen, but I’ve heard so many great things about them. I think I’ll start with this book when I decide to read some Dessen. 😊


  3. Now I need to find a copy of this book haha. Annabel sounds like my kind of girl, and the way you described her and Owen made me want to make grabby hands, like give me this book already.

    I love these kinds of reviews, and you did very well, Reg. It was lovely to read your experience with Just Listen. ❤


  4. I love this book so much and your review has made me want to grab it off my shelf and reread it right now. Sarah Dessen books are so wonderful, aren’t they? Although Dreamland is probably my favorite (for the fact that it’s a tad different from her usual books and so it always stood out to me) but this one along with This Lullaby are close seconds. I love how you first read this because of a friend. It was the same for me with This Lullaby. A friend gave me her old copy for my birthday and after I read it I picked up everything thing by Sarah Dessen that I could get my hands on haha. Great review! 😊


    • She’s just got that coming-of-age feel just right, I think, and she usually deals with family issues, and given that family plays a VERY HUGE part when you’re a teenager… I guess I just related (and probably still relate) with her protagonists in that area.

      I love This Lullaby too! That’s probably my third favourite after Lock and Key. Did you know that she has a new book coming out next year? SO EXCITED! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • I completely agree! All of that and the fact that I started reading her books when I was in high school are a big reason why I related and still do to her books as well.
        Yes! I’m really excited too! Someone actually posted an excerpt a week or so back and it sounds like it’s going to be really good. 😃


  5. I read this one years ago 🙂 It was cute, probably now I wouldn’t have liked it that much, but I appreciate it was a good story and so beautifully written!


  6. Aww yay I’m so glad you enjoy this one! I agree with her writing style, it’s simple yet it just hits so many feels for me you know? My favorite of her books is THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER. If you haven’t read that, you should try it ❤


  7. Great review! Just Listen was my first Dessen book, and it holds a really special place in my heart. I’m glad it does for you as well ❤


  8. I AM SCREAMING WHILE READING THIS REVIEW! I really should stop commenting on your reviews like this because I sound like a psycho. 😅😅 I never had a favorite book until I read Just Listen and I really can’t pinpoint what I love so much about it. I too was totally lost on the whole ‘book boyfriend’ concept until I met Owen. Where can I find me an Owen?? 😂😂 I’m so excited for her new book, I NEED 2017 TO GET HERE ALREADY!

    Great review, Reg!


    • BUT I LOVE YOUR COMMENTS! ❤ And I know – it’s probably my first real favourite book too just because I find it so re-readable and nostalgic and I dunno, heartwarming? Like I love how much I could just delve into the story and it kind of feels like a warm blanket.

      I am so, SO excited for her new book too! I kind of love that she doesn’t publish all that often – like you can just tell when she writes a story and puts it out there, she REALLY believes in that story. 😂


  9. Familiar instead of repetitive is exactly how I feel with the Stephanie Plum series. I’m reading n°16 and I admit by now there is a lot of been there, done that, but I just love those characters who feel like family now. Great review! I haven’t read anything by the author yet!


  10. Okay. Why do you do this to me, Reg, why?!! I really want to read this book badly, right now. I feel like Sarah Dessen could, in just a few books, become one of my favorite authors, and from your description I can already relate to the main characterS. And we do need book boyfriends like that one. Sweet, before anything else. Fantastic review! ❤


  11. Your review has literally made me want to grab my copy of this book, start reading, and not stop until I’ve finished (and given it’s nearly 11pm here and I have work tomorrow that is NOT a good idea). XD
    Just Listen is my all-time favourite Sarah Dessen book, the first YA contemporary book I picked up and the first book by her I read as well so I feel when I do re-read it it will be a nostalgic experience for me like it was for you, but I still love her work now (and reading Lock and Key for the first time last month proved that I think). 😀
    I definitely agree about Owen standing out that little bit more than Annabel, I loved his character and pretty much everything about him. Why don’t I have someone like him in my life right now? Does that person even exist outside of this book?
    Just Listen is going on my re-read list for next month. Great review Reg! 😀


    • Mission accomplished, haha. I’ve picked up this book so many times before bed and just end up reading my favourite scenes, so I know the feel. 😂

      Lock and Key is my second favourite! I think with Dessen, the more I reread her books the more I love them, so they’ve definitely got that long-lastingness for me. I hope it’s the same for you too.

      I knoooow, haha. I hope you find someone like him – I’m sure there are people like him out there. 💕👀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do that a lot with this book as well (and a few other all-time favourites) if I don’t have time to do a complete re-read I will just read my favourite scenes over and over again.
        My second favourite is The Truth About Forever but I think Lock and Key is definitely number three. It’s definitely the same for me, her writing is something I love as much today as I did the first time I picked up one of her books.
        Somewhere, just a matter of finding them! 😀


        • I think the only reason why I didn’t fall completely in love with The Truth about Forever is that I’ve only really read it once… and with Dessen’s books, the more I read them, the more I love them. So I haven’t had the chance to really fall for that one. One day, though! And I’m SUPER excited for her 2017 release too. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          • Well in that case I hope the more you read The Truth About Forever the more you love it! 😀
            I still have some of her recent releases to get around to, I think the next one on my to-read list is Along for the Ride. I think my aim is to be up to date on her books by the time her new one is released! 🙂


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