“Don’t think or judge, just listen”
In about two days, I have managed to reread the book “Just Listen” for the fifth or sixth time. There aren’t many books that I have reread. Even less that I have reread so many times. But this book has a very special place in my heart and it destroyed me when I lost it. I am so happy to have found my way back to these pages and I’m only disappointed that I found it after I met the author. It would have been amazing to get my beat-up copy of this novel signed. Either way, it’s still cool that I met the author of a book that changed my life. I don’t even know how to put this book into words, it’s that good. But I’ll do my best to try.
Ever since I was little, I’ve always leaned towards heavily fictionalized stories. I like knights and dragons, ghosts and goblins, murder mysteries, and aliens and intergalactic battles. I want a heavy dose of horror, mystery, adventure, fantasy, and science fiction in my novels. Romance? Boring. Teen Drama? I have enough in real life, thanks. Never in a million years would I have picked this book up of my own violation. But two of my friends outruled me for a book club assignment in 8th Grade. My hands were tied. When all was said and done, my two friends ended up hating the novel. And here I am, nine years later, rereading it for the hundredth time. Funny how these things turn out.
This book is so much more than your typical teenage love story. The love story is actually the least important part of this novel. The story of this book follows the life of Annabel Green, the “girl who has everything”, who currently has nothing. Her best friend hates her, her family doesn’t understand her, and the entire school has shunned her. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t try to clear up misunderstandings, never expresses her true feelings, and let’s conflicts fester up until the divide is no longer possible to cross. But everything changes when Annabel meets Owen Armstrong, the scary loner kid with anger management issues. Who is actually a fairly chill, if not a little intense, person. Through her friendship with Owen, Annabel learns to be honest and open with herself and others. She learns to be herself, without censoring her true feelings and beliefs.
There are only a few characters who are more to me than just fiction written by some author. Who have acted as legitimate mentors in my life. Both Annabel and Owen constitute as this for me. Annabel reminds me so much of myself. No, I’ve never been the popular girl. No, I’m not nearly as quiet about my opinions with those close to me. No, nobody thinks of me as “the girl who has everything”. Nobody knows my business. But we’re both passive people who prefer to keep our feelings private. We’re both absolutely terrified of conflict. We both tend to push people away when we don’t know how to handle a difficult situation. Actually dealing with a problem head-on? What are you crazy? But Annabel grows as a character over the course of the book. She starts being honest and true to herself and eventually with those around her. She faces her problems and moves forward. She finds happiness again. I know how hard that can be and I can’t help but admire her.
As for Owen…Owen is so much more than a character to me. I was introduced to this book at such a young age that some of my personality was shaped by it. It’s Owen’s fault I’m so damn blunt. It’s Owen’s fault I listen to music all the time. It’s Owen’s fault I always feel so guilty when I try to avoid my problems. It’s Owen’s fault that I hold myself to a higher standard. All the other Dessen guys can’t compare. Dexter is annoying, Wes is too swoon-worthy, and Eli and Mac remind me too much of guys I actually know. But Owen has that “Dumbledore Look” down to an art. He’s compassionate and kind. He’s a little nerdy in regards to music. He’s completely accepting of people who are different and march to the beat of their own drum. But, most of all, I respect his honesty. His ability to say what he really thinks no matter what. To be upfront about his feelings and thoughts. Unspoken feelings and subtext will be the death of me, I swear. I’ve always held people who are unabashedly honest in high respect. It takes some serious guts and it’s such a relief to know where you stand.
I also love the messages about looking beyond the surface, seeing things from different perspectives, and listening to what your heart is trying to say without judgment. I love watching Annabel grow into herself and I love watching her friendship with Owen blossom. I just love this entire book so damn much. I can’t recommend it highly enough. My two best friends judge me for liking Sarah Dessen, but I can’t imagine my life without this book. I wouldn’t want to, either. Just…check it out. Don’t think. Don’t judge. Just listen. You never know. Maybe it’ll change your life too. And even if it doesn’t, the book encourages honesty. You’re welcome to hate it too. Just give it a shot.