Review: Just Listen

just listenJust Listen
by Sarah Dessen
Published by: Penguin Group Inc.
Form: Purchased Paperback
Big Themes: Family, Identity, Friendship, Falling in Love, Sexual Abuse, Eating Disorders, Modeling, Music

Summary:
Annabel is the youngest of three sisters.  All were models.  All are different.  Something happened to Annabel at the end of the school year, and when she returns to school in the fall, everything has changed.  Annabel has to figure out who she is and what she wants out of life.

What I Loved:

Family: Sarah Dessen does families well.  The characterization and family dynamics seem to often be one of the central plots her books.  I liked the sisters a lot in this book, and I enjoyed how each of them had a hobby they were passionate about.  I love when characters have cool hobbies in books–bonus points!

Quirky Love Interest: Owen is passionate about music and it was captured in every aspect of his character.  He really came to life on the page.  Musical guys aren’t really my thing, but if you like musical leading men–this is your book.

Criticism:

Heavy Flashback in Exposition: Ergh. Sarah Dessen, this is another trademark of your books it seems.  The beginning is heavy with flashbacks and delays getting to the real story.  While it does provide character insight, I prefer my books to be faster-paced and flashbacks inevitably bog the story down.

The Secret Game: Ergh. This is a major pet peeve of mine.  I can’t stand when the main character clearly knows something or went through something, but we as the reader aren’t being informed of what it was.  It feels like a manipulative game by the author because I should know everything the character knows if they are the one telling the story.  It’s one thing if it’s just not information that comes up organically in the story.  But I feel cheated when the character is walking around thinking about this obscure ‘bad thing’ but the character isn’t revealing what the ‘bad thing’ was.  This is a trick to me.  Because if I was in that characters head, then I’d know what the bad thing was.  Don’t hold it back just to string us along.

Overall:
Three and a half stars.  I bought this book for a trip to the beach, wanting a light romantic read.  But the subject matter was a lot heavier than I probably want in a light read.  I generally don’t want to read many problem novels, and with both eating disorders and sexual abuse, this was not exactly what I was looking for.  However, there is great characterization, great family, and a sweet love interest.  Worth reading.

Review: The Truth About Forever

truthaboutforeverThe Truth About Forever
by Sarah Dessen
Published by: Penguin Group Inc.
Form: Kindle eBook*
Big Themes: Loss of Parent, Identity, Friendship, Falling in Love,

Summary:
After losing her father unexpectedly to heart attack, Macy struggles with her grief and her identity.  She strives to be perfect, but soon realizes that this fake perfection isn’t what makes her happy.  And perhaps, she’ll have to take some risks to find true happiness.

*I’ve had a fierce moral struggle with purchasing eBooks from Amazon.  However, I have a bunch of eBooks that I purchased before I started boycotting.  And I’ve decided to read those, since I already paid for them.

I’ve been wanting to read something by Sarah Dessen since I saw her speak at the 2011 National Book Festival in DC. She was just so adorable.  Below is a picture showing her adorableness:

03aa6-sarahdessen

What I Loved:

Characterization: There are some really memorable characters, but most of all the characters felt very real to me.  Kristy with her spunky personality, Monica with her limited conversation skills, Bert with his post-apocalyptic obsession, and Delia the pregnant caterer on the edge of disaster.  Most of all, my favorite character was Wes, and not just because he was the hunky romantic lead (though that helped).  I was pleasantly surprised by Wes’ character because he is a welder/metalworker/artist!  Was not expecting that hobby in this book!  I’m writing a character with the same occupation for my own novel right now, which gave me quite a soft spot for him.  I also really liked the Truth game that Macy and Wes play together because it’s sort of like a game I’ve played with guys I’m dating. And I think it helped show the two characters taking time to get to know each other, and not just highlighting the physical chemistry that is often associated with quick, teen romance.

Emotion: Sarah Dessen is an expert at the emotional journey.  This is something I really struggle with plot-wise, and I could probably benefit with reading more of her books and breaking down how she takes her characters on these emotional journeys.  The core of the emotional journey was definitely between Macy and her mother, and this mother/daughter relationship was well-done with the right young adult issues at its core.  Communication between mother and daughter is something a lot of teens struggle with, and I think Dessen handled this theme beautifully.

Criticism:

Heavy Flashback in Exposition: The book had an incredibly slow start due to all the flashbacks concerning Macy’s dad.  I realize that the flashbacks were essential to setting up Macy’s character, but I wonder if they could have been executed in a way that didn’t bog down the beginning of the novel.

Heavy Description: There were whole pages of description that I sort of just skimmed.  I have a low tolerance for description.  I think a few well-worded sentences or no more than three descriptive details is enough, and then you allow the reader to fill in the rest based on the mood you’ve created.  But that’s my personal taste.

Overall:
At first I struggled to get into the book because realistic fiction isn’t really my genre and the beginning of the book is heavy with flashbacks and description. HOWEVER, I definitely got into the book with time and can  say I enjoyed it and will read another by Sarah Dessen.  Four Stars.