Monday, August 2, 2010

Book Review and Giveaway: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

I know, I know! This isn't a dystopian title, but the one little non-dystopian post I'll be doing this month.  You see, over at Sarah-Land ning, Penguin is celebrating The Summer of Sarah for Sarah fans new and old to get excited about Sarah Dessen's backlist titles in preparation for her new book coming out next year WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE.  This week, it's all about JUST LISTEN, and you have a chance to win a signed copy here and another signed copy over at Sarah-Land.

Here's what Sarah has to say about the novel:

People are always interested to learn where a story comes from, and I’m often asked where I get the ideas for my books. The truth is, sometimes I don’t even know: rather than just one big moment, it’s often a lot of little random thoughts, scribbled notes on scraps of paper and backs of receipts, that make up a novel. Other times, though, you can trace a story’s beginning back to a specific moment. That’s what happened with Just Listen.

It was the fall of 2004, and I was about to start a new book. I had a couple of ideas kicking around in my head, some things I knew I wanted to do, but nothing concrete just yet. One day, I was sitting in the lobby of a private school, waiting to do a talk, when I saw a yearbook on the table beside me. I picked it open and started to flip through it, looking at the sports shots, different classes, and finally the senior pages, which were filled with personal photos from each of the graduates. One in particular jumped out at me. It was a shot of three beautiful girls, obviously sisters, all blonde, posing together by a pool, and even at first glance all I could think was that they looked like the kind of girls who had everything. A great family, fabulous social life, palpable confidence, all the stuff I wished I had in high school, and beyond. Then someone called my name: it was time to give my talk. So I shut the book, and left it behind.

Later though, when I was driving home, I kept thinking about that picture, and how quickly I’d made assumptions about it. After all, nobody’s life is perfect, and you can’t tell anything from just one shot, one day. I started to wonder what it would be like to be one of those girls, with everyone so quick to judge, and just how wrong they might be. And just like that, Annabel’s story, which had been hovering in my head in bits and pieces, began to come together.

It is always my intention to write a simple, streamlined novel, short and sweet. But that never happens. Instead, I begin with one idea, which morphs into another, and then another, like a picture that grows past its frame to show everything else that’s happening you can’t see at first. So like The Truth About Forever, my last book, Just Listen has a lot going on. There’s modeling, music, family dynamics, and even bacon. It also brings back a few people those of you who have read my other books might recognize, and I hope will be happy to see again.

No writing process is ever easy, and this book took a lot out of me. Looking back, I think that like Annabel, I had a hard story to tell, and sometimes it was tough to work up to getting it out. I kept going back, rewriting, not trusting that I was doing it justice. It was only once it was finished that I was able to see that all along, I should have been taking my own advice. Not over thinking, backtracking, or obsessing, but instead simply letting Annabel have her say. I just needed to listen. I hope you will, too.

And here's what I have to say:

On the surface, Annabel seems like the perfect teen. But she’s starting to crack under the pressure of broken friendships, dark secrets, and family troubles. Then she meets Owen and finds in this loner, music-obsessed boy with anger management problems someone who always speaks the truth and who will just listen.

Believe it or not, JUST LISTEN was my first ever Sarah Dessen novel. And despite the tragic circumstances in my life while I was reading it, I did get rather sucked into the story.

Owen is a marvelous creation – an atypical love interest for a YA novel – raw, honest and real. His relationship with Annabel reminded me of a book I loved as a preteen JUST A LITTLE BIT LOST by Laurel Trivelpiece in which the wallflower main character gets lost on a school hiking trip with the most popular boy in school and they grow to trust each other and really bond. I really like stories about very different people looking beyond the surface to see their similarities. I also loved all the scenes with Owen’s younger sister – she’s a riot!

Annabel was a bit frustrating for me though. She never really lets you get inside her head, which is something I feel is essential in this type of book. You do come to understand some of her motivations for her semi-withdrawal from life, but I never did get why she let former best friend Sophie push her around like she did. I think she lost a lot of sympathy points by being such a pushover.

But still, this is one of the better contemporary YA realistic fiction I've read and I'm sure I'll read more Sarah Dessen in the future.

Your chance to win:

I have one signed copy of JUST LISTEN to giveaway to one lucky reader with a US mailing address. Copy is provided and sent by the publisher. Just tell me in the comments what Sarah Dessen novel I might try next (or if you haven't read any, than any contemporary YA realistic novel).  Contest will close Monday August 8th at 11:59 pm CST.

You also have two more chances to win over at Sarah-Land by answering the fun trivia questions this week about JUST LISTEN.

And tomorrow I'll review my first dystopian title of the month, promise!

49 comments:

Jackie Noel said...

My favorite Sarah Dessen novel was her recent 'Along for the Ride.' It was lovely. I love summer beach stories so it was really refreshing. If not that one, then Lock and Key is my next favorite. :)
jackie_love35@msn.com

Rhiannon said...

Alrighty, I can't qualify (sigh, canadian!). But I have to say that I just read my first Sarah Dessen novel as well (won from Lauren Oliver) and loved it. So I second Jackie Noel's motion, read Along for the Ride, terrible cover but great summer story.

Lenore said...

Jackie & Rhi - I actually have Along for the Ride, so that's cool! And sorry Rhi - I wish I could offer the book internationally but it's up to the sponsor in this case :(

Word Lily said...

The only Dessen I've read so far is Lock and Key; I really enjoyed it, but I'm looking forward to her This Lullaby, which I've heard is excellent. I'd love to win! WordLily AT gmail DOT com

Amanda said...

I've only read two Dessen books and this one is my fav of the two. I liked Annabel's character BECAUSE she was a pushover, because some people are just like that and you never hear about them in books. Not as main characters anyway. And I loved Owen.

No need to enter me for the contest, since I already have this one. :)

Rowena said...

This was my very first Sarah Dessen book so it holds a special place in my heart. I loved this book, I loved it and I loved Owen. Such a great book!

I love the Summer of Sarah!

Shooting Stars Mag said...

I need to read something by Sarah. I've been meaning too. Another book though? The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

-Lauren

lauren51990 AT aol DOT com

Allison said...

glad you enjoyed it, I love it too! You should definitely check out The Truth About Forever for your next Dessen, its my favorite :)

Meredith said...

How about That Summer? Or I'd agree with Along for the Ride that was already suggested.

meredithfl at gmail dot com

Alex said...

I love Just Listen since it was the first Sarah Dessen Novel I read and Introduced me to this great author.
I would recommend Along For The Ride, my second favorite Sarah Dessen novel. It is the perfect summer read!
This Lullaby also blew me away, pretty much all Sarah Dessen's books are fantastic!

Book_Girl2010@yahoo.com @
http://morethanjustabook.blogspot.com/

Lea (YA Book Queen) said...

Definitely read The Truth About Forever or Dreamland next. Both are amazing, but in different ways.

Cara said...

Hmm, well I've only read one Dessen which was Dreamland. It was pretty heavy, so I recommend it if you've been reading some lighter summer reads. :)

carabee14@gmail.com

Nicole said...

I agree with some of the others and will recommend Along for the Ride.

mybookviews[at]gmail.com

katie said...

I love all of Sarah Dessen's books but Just Listen is one of my favorites. My other favorite that you should read is The Truth About Forever. It's a great book.

Thanks for the giveaway.

katieb206 at gmail dot com

Mel said...

I loved Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever. Keeping the Moon was great two, but my favorite is still The Truth About Forever. It is a great read.
wheems01@gmail.com

Alysa said...

The only one I've read is Along for the Ride. It was good. You could give that one a shot next. :)

KrysteyBelle said...

I really enjoyed Lock and Key. Ruby's story was so heartbreaking.

belle5678 at yahoo dot com

bkobsessed17 said...

I love most of her books, and Dreamland is def my favorite! Although after I read Along for the Ride, it was almost knocked to second!

bermudaonion said...

I haven't read any of Dessen's work, so I'm going to suggest Sea Change by Aimee Friedman. Thanks for the great giveaway. milou2ster(at)gmail.com

kjovus said...

I have only read one of Sarah Dessen's novels and she is a great author. I would get mad at the book then pick it up and start reading it again 5 minutes later. Its a good author that can evoke such emotions.
kjovus(at)gmail(dot)com

Kate said...

I am NOT entering the competition. I just thought I'd make that clear.

I just thought I'd say that I really enjoyed reading "Just Listen" .

jpetroroy said...

I loved The Truth About Forever and Lock and Key.

jpetroroy at gmail dot com

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

i've heard so much about Sarah Dessen's novels but have never read her as of yet....so please, please, please enter me anovelsource@gmail.com

if you haven't read this one yet, it's fantastic - Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Misusedinnocence said...

I've heard great things about Along For The Ride and would recommend that one. :)

misusedinnocence@aol.com

Melinda said...

Well since you really enjoyed this novel, and since this is one of Dessen's more dark storys I would recommend Dreamland. It is much more dark in my opinion, but maybe thats just because it's got a darker cover then Just Listen. Either way it deals with not just a dark past that the protagonist wants to hide from, but it deals with an ongoing issue that the protagonist has to deal with. I don't want to give too much away.. but this is also different from the other books by Dessen is that nobody new comes into the protagonists life to save her, it's her family and the ones that were with her all along that save her.
mcampanella033 (at) gmail (dot) com

Marisa said...

I'm a huge Dessen fan, I've read every single book of hers. So this is a tough decision! But I'd have to go with The Truth About Forever. That book is probably tied with Just Listen for my favorite Dessen novel. It's one of the better ones, plot wise. And I just fell in love with all the characters. Definitely check it out!

iheartmsod4life@aim.com

Simply_Megan said...

This is my favorite Sarah Dessen novel ever! But all of hers are good. I also really liked Along for the Ride and Keeping the Moon. Please enter me for the contest!

swimmer1430@aim.com

Holly said...

I really liked The Truth About Forever, and have been hesitant to read anything else because I'm afraid it won't live up. I've heard good things about this book, however. Thanks for the giveaway.

Natalie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Natalie said...

Until recently, my favorite Sarah Dessen book had to be The Truth About Forever. It was the perfect summer story, complete with adorable, shaggy-haired sculptor, a summer-long game of Truth, and the fantastic, chaotic catering company, Wish. The narrator, Macy, is The Girl Who Saw Her Dad Die, and ever since she met Jason, her boyfriend, she's had an intense need to be "perfect". Until she meets Kristy, whose face is scarred from a car accident years ago; Mallory, Kristy sister and polar opposite-dark, brooding, and near-mute; Bert, who drives a refurbished ambulance and is a super-nerd, complete with Armageddon fascination. And, of course, Wes, Bert's older brother, who sculpts using junk and plays a mean game of Truth.
It's a completely perfect summer read, and I know it's a crowd favorite among Sarah Dessen fans.

But I recently re-read This Lullaby, and I have to say that I was far more taken with it this time around. I loved that Remy was the self-described 'Cold, bitter bitch' who'd seen one too many heart breaks in her life, rather than the sweet, aching heroines that Dessen seems partial to writing.
Remy's style is to date em and drop em, and she does so partially out of self-defense, giving everything she's got to not be like her mother, famed romance novelist Barbara Starr, who is getting ready for Wedding Number 5 at the beginning of the book.
Enter Dexter, the lead singer of the band Truth Squad, and everything Remy tries to avoid.
He's loud, he's unpredictable, he makes terrible jokes, and he's a musician. Not to mention that he has a dog named Monkey.
Naturally, before she knows it, Remy's falling for him. She even goes so far as to buy him plastic ware (Dexter insists that she loves him, Remy insists that it was on sale).
So what does she do? She leaves, without ever having even slept with him (a huge accomplishment for her, who her friends loving refer to as a whore.)
It's a fantastic book and I highly recommend it, but either one is definitely worth a read. Sarah Dessen if fluffy chick-lit on the surface, but she's always manages to surprise you with something far deeper just underneath.
(the_hoff2@yahoo.com)

Stephanie said...

Lock and Key is my next Dessen favorite (Just Listen is the first, and it was also the first Dessen I read!). The Truth About Forever was also good. stephanidekeyser AT gmail dot com


OH! And Just a Little Bit Lost- I read that as a very young teen and loved it too! I still have a copy of it on my bookshelf and have been meaning to re-read it one of these days. Glad to find someone else who enjoyed the sweet romance in that book. :)

Jacqueline C. said...

You should definitely try This Lullaby! It's one of my all-time favorite YA novels.

Kristen Field said...

I would read 'The Truth About Forever' next. I love all the characters in it, and while the writing is funny and completely engrossing, Sarah also deals with a lot of really deep questions - questions that you might not have the answers to by the end of the novel, but will continue to think about for a long time after you put the book down.

Kristen Field said...

...and sorry, how do we give you our address?

Miss K said...

I love everything Sarah Dessen, and haven't read Just Listen...so I hope I win.
My favorites by her are Along for the Ride and The Truth About Forever.

go.megan.go at gmail dot com

Alyce said...

I haven't read any of her books yet either, but I own Lock and Key, which I have heard good things about.

akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com

Kris said...

Unfortunately I haven't read any of her work YET. Notice the capital letters. So I'll recc. Forget You by Jennifer Echols which I thought was really fantastic and realistic YA writing.

ksg_amg(at)yahoo.com

nymfaux said...

I haven't read any Sarah Dessen yet--But I've been hearing a lot of good things! As for contemporary realistic novels, there are a couple I would recommend--Lifted by Wendy Toliver is AMAZING--SUPER-GOOD!!!!!! Also, I've just discovered Elizabeth Scott--I've read two of her novels, The Unwritten Rule and Something, Maybe--both were really good, I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another of her books!!!

thanks for the contest, good luck with your reading!!!

Shanyn said...

The Truth About Forever is my favorite! Just Listen is #2... though I have only read about half.

Kate said...

My favorite Sarah Dessen book is The truth about forever. it has a lot of the dinamics that just listen has but in a different way. it has family problems, with a girl getting over her father's death. it also has wes and the wish catering crew who are quirky. all in all this book is awesome and this should be your next book!

Christina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ashley said...

I'd love a chance to win! I've been meaning to read Sarah Dessen forever! I just read If I Stay and Before I Fall and loved them both, so I'd recommend those!

basicallyamazingbooks [at] gmail [dot] com

dreaaa said...

You should definitely read The Truth About Forever. It's my second favorite Dessen novel (aside from Just Listen, but I guess we all have different tastes!). It's a little more lighthearted and fun. It was my first Dessen novel, and I've been in love with her work ever since. :)

Thank you so much for hosting this contest! :)

rileyluvr13@hotmail.com

Cass said...

I haven't yet read any of Sarah Dessen's books, but I can already tell they're the kind of book for me! Anyway, for contemp YA fiction, I'd like to direct you to look at If I Stay by Gayle Forman. OR if you want a less..."realistic" and sad read, you could try "Twenty Boy Summer" or one of Lauren Barnholdt's books.

cc932005 at hotmail dot com

Randomly Simple said...

I would totally recommend for you to read The Truth About Forever! It is by far my absolute favorite Dessen book. <3 Since her father's death... Macy strives for perfection, Deborah wants Macy to have perfection, but Macy can't be perfect. With her nerdy boyfriend Jason heading off to Brain Camp for the summer she must take over his library job, and study for SAT's alone... But, while conversing with him through e-mail she shows her affection and he feels she isn't up to his standards. Macy is left wondering why she can't be perfect? Until she meets Wish. Wish is a catering crew that works at her mothers open house. With its chaos and imperfection Macy finds herself drawn to its crew. Soon she is falling into the Wes and Kristy crowd, she finally feels happiness since her dads death. In the end there's romance, happiness and pretty much every other happy emotion from Dessen's novels. I definitely think you should read this!

Randomly Simple said...

oooppss. forgot my email :]

CheeryCass@AIM.com

Nancye said...

I LOVE Sarah Dessen! How 'bout "This Lullaby" or "Lock and Key"?

I would LOVE to win this book! Thanks for the chance.

nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

Riv Re said...

My sister loves Sarah Dessen. It would be a great gift for her. I haven't read any of her books, but an adorable contemporary fiction I read was Something Like Fate by Susan Colasanti.
rivkarno1(at)hotmail(dot)com

Espana said...

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen is a story about secrets and consequences that keeps you flipping the pages and wanting more. This story is about a teenage girl named Annabel Greene who in the beginning stars as "the girl who has it all" in a commercial for a local mall. Months later when the comercial finally airs, Annabel sees herself differently. She was best friends with a girl named Sophie and the reason they ended their friendship isn't revealed until the later chapters. Annabel is more comfortable keeping her own secrets than actually opening up to the truth and facing her problems. I think this is one of those books that teenagers and young adults can relate to. I would recomend this to anyone that has read any of Dessen's other novels such as Dreamland, Someone Like You, and Along for the Ride