The laws of random reading for the decision-impaired nearly landed me in a reading funk about a month ago. The randomizer picked and I dutifully began and discarded a couple of books, which is good in the grand scheme of "I have ever so many books and must get rid of some, but also I read at a glacial pace" things, but not so great because after a few in a row, you're like, "Uh oh, do I just not like books right now? Any books?" Happily, just as I was reaching my saturation point with not liking books, the randomizer awarded me Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. I won't say I'm a crazed Sarah Dessen fangirl - honestly I found Dreamland to be kind of a disappointment as far as YA issue novels go, but I had a fantastic experience with The Truth About Forever, so I was happy when Just Listen's number came up.
When I got to my own face, I found myself starting at it, so bright, with dark all around it, like it was someone I didn't recognize. Like a word on a page that you've printed and read a million times, that suddenly looks strange or wrong, foreign, and you feel scared for a second, like you've lost something, even if you're not sure what it is.
Instead of letting the truth out, Annabel is limping through her senior year friendless and sick with worry. That is, of course, until she meets the guy. Owen Armstrong's not exactly a social butterfly either. He's got kind of a frightening reputation for anger and a habit of always using his headphones to block out the world, but it turns out broody, honest to a fault Owen is the only one who can rescue Annabel from her own act and help her tell the truth, even to herself.
There is definitely something special about a Sarah Dessen book. It's not that I relate terribly much to her trying-to-be-perfect teenage main characters or expect that an unexpected guy will always come to the rescue when life goes south. However, Dessen does a great job of turning a "perfect" untouchable girl into a normal person with normal problems whose life isn't as great as it seems. Annabel's life, in ways, is perfectly typical, filled with sisters who are rivals; loving, if distracted, parents; and a childhood friend or two who got dropped along the way. It's that true-to-life high school experience that really helps Dessen's characters jump off the page and become truly lovable.
The romance that brings an unlikely couple together is satisfying, but more importantly serves as a way to draw out Annabel's character and her coming of age story. Admittedly, Dessen books have a bit of a formula to them, but I think it's a great formula, and when Annabel finally comes to terms with her secrets, I was crying right along with her. Just Listen is a touching, satisfying romance with a musical bent and a main character who is learning just how much the truth can set her free.
There comes a time in every life when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you'd better learn to know the sound of it. Otherwise you'll never understand what it's saying.