It feels like a million years since I’ve been around with an honest-to-goodness book review. Know why? Not because I was hiking up K2, not because I was curing German measles, not because I was rescuing three-legged kittens off the street. Well, okay, I’m guilty of that last one. But more to the point, I’ve been in a reading slump.
I wasn’t feeling inspired! And it’s not that I haven’t been reading fabulous books, because I have: The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley; Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brian; Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest. All at the same time. And the problem was, none of them were tugging at me, demanding that I read more. I was halfheartedly interested, flipping through at lunch, but when I got home I would flip on the TV and Mike and I would watch four or five straight episodes of Death Note instead. I was, as I said, in a reading slump.
Apparently, though, all it took to break that slump was a little book called Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen, which I picked up a month or so ago when I went to a library book sale with Jessica. I grabbed it off the
floor shelf three days ago, a little bit out of desperation, a little bit out of boredom. And then I proceeded to read it nearly straight through to the end, only stopping for necessities like sleep and, you know, work.
Now this is what I was looking for! That feeling of needing to know what happens next, of “OH MY GOD IS SHE TALKING ABOUT WHAT I THINK SHE’S TALKING ABOUT.” Dessen spools out the story so well, bit by bit while keeping the tension tight enough to hang laundry on. It’s contemporary YA, and very well-written: Annabel’s apparently perfect life shows cracks and faults upon even the slightest examination, and everything threatens to fall apart around her while she’s trying to hold herself together. She’s been outcast by her popular friend Sophie, her sister Whitney is taking all of her family’s energy and attention with her eating disorder, and the only person she can talk to is Owen, the boy with the anger management problem.
Annabel’s fear of confrontation permeates everything, and while Owen teaches her how to confront her own problems and bring them to her family, to the people who can help her, it’s never too pat or unrealistic. I wanted it so, so badly, but there was never any big throwdown with Sophie, where she sets Sophie straight and finally gets the apology she so (SO SO MUCH) deserves–and that’s okay. A throwdown, even after Annabel learns how to speak up about her issues, would have been out of character, and at the end of the story, Sophie isn’t the one with whom Annabel really has the issue. Annabel! My heart went out to her so much, and while I know punching doesn’t solve anything, Owen gave me a little bit of satisfaction at the end. Thank you, Owen, for sacrificing your fist and your freedom to make the readers cheer a little.
There are certain things in the book that gave me pause–all the boys like Owen that I knew in high school hadn’t learned the art of showering or deodorant yet, and that’s about all I could think about each time he and Annabel started to get close–but in the end, I was able to let the slightly more fantastical parts go because of the very real core. I think this would be a valuable book for (ahem) actual young adults to have on their reading list, because it’s a book about very important issues without becoming an “issue book.” Plus, Owen’s musical pretentiousness is kind of adorable, even though I find it completely obnoxious in people I know in real life. (Coughmybrothercough. There’s only so much talk one can listen to about how great 70s Italian Prog Rock is, okay?)
Now I know that if I fall into another reading slump, all I have to do is turn to Sarah Dessen for a little kickstart!
(Also, what is up with the US cover? I agree with Poshdeluxe from Forever Young Adult, it looks like a book about menstruation and Teenage Body Changes. The UK cover is way better:
Am I right or am I right? Man, US YA covers are all kind of whack.)