Sarah Dessen

Just Listen

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Just Listen Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Just Listen by Sarah Dessen.

Just Listen, a young adult novel by Sarah Dessen published in 2006, tells the story of a model, Annabel Greene, and the way her life unravels after a horrific incident leaves her feeling like an outcast.

Annabel has fought with her best friend, Sophie, and is not looking forward to her junior year of high school. Thanks to Sophie’s gossip, the other students ostracize Annabel, and the only place she can sit in the lunchroom is with Owen. Owen is obsessed with music and is rumored to be violent. As it is, he keeps his headphones in, and they do not talk.

At home, her sister Whitney is in rehabilitation for an eating disorder, and her mother is controlling of her career. Their oldest sister had to quit modeling, and now she is in school in New York City.

Over time, Annabel and Owen strike up a conversation, and then begin to talk deeply. He truly is obsessed with music, and she finds herself arguing with him about music over lunch though she had always been terrified to share a strong opinion about anything. She even begins listening to the radio station he hosts.

Whitney starts to improve thanks to her therapies, and Annabel’s life is starting to look up. She goes over to Owen’s house, and they almost kiss. His little sister foils them, but later they finally kiss when they go through a car wash and listen to music together.

As Annabel prepares for the fall fashion show at the mall, she hears that Will Cash, Sophie’s boyfriend, assaulted a fellow model, Emily. It turns out that he also raped Annabel—the reason for her falling out with Sophie. She has never told anyone except Sophie what happened, and it has made her feel isolated and alone.

After the show, she goes to a music show to meet Owen, but she is distracted by what she has learned. Owen’s friend Rolly asks her to introduce him to Clarke, but she and Clarke have not been friends since she chose Sophie over her. She sets up the introduction even though Clarke hates her and then she drives away without saying good-bye to anyone.

She is alone again. Owen avoids her, and she refuses to talk to anyone about what is going on. Emily approaches her to testify against Will in his trial because she knows that Annabel had accused him before. She breaks down crying, and Clarke approaches her to ask if she is ok. Clarke tells her that Owen is really worried about her.

Annabel decides to go to the station to tell Owen everything. She cries as she tells him, and he encourages her to testify. They make up after months of not talking. Annabel goes home and tells her family what she is going to do. They all go to the courthouse to support her. Owen is supposed to be there, but he does not show up. Will, however, now has a black eye.

Owen did not show up because he got in trouble for punching Will in the face. A few weeks later, Annabel is covering for Owen at the radio station because he has been grounded after punching Will. Clarke is there, and they are beginning to repair their friendship. Things are getting better at home, and Annabel has even told her mother that she is not going to model anymore. Her life has improved, and she has only hope for the future.

A major theme of the book is language and communication. Annabel has a tough time expressing her feelings, and several times in the book she hurts others because she is unable to explain herself or articulate what she needs. She and Sophie have a falling out one of the few times she is honest, but she drops it and refuses to talk about what Will did to her. This causes anxiety and isolation as she tries to rebuild her life, and it also causes her to alienate people who might want to help her.

No one in her family seems able to explain what they are feeling. Her sisters are models as well, but they are not speaking. Whitney has turned to eating disorders to handle her emotions and stress putting her in therapy. Kristen just leaves and goes to New York to get away from everyone. The tension in the house builds on Annabel’s existing stress making it difficult for her to find a place that does not make her feel anxious and alone.

The teenagers in the novel are at difficult points in their lives. They are all wrestling with their identities and striving to find out who they are. Some of them become bullies. Others turn to violence. Many of them turn to music and art to express their emotions. They all need to learn to communicate and to be a little more understanding of each other.

Dessen’s book deals with the heavy emotions teens have as they navigate their identities and relationships. The story has a happy ending for most of the characters as they repair their relationships and find out who they are as people.