Friday, August 19, 2016

Fiction | Life Turned Upside-Down

We all have those movies or TV shows we love to watch because they're easy entertainment—relaxing, mindless, superficial drama that we get sucked into for however long and forget about immediately after. These "guilty pleasures" aren't things we go around sharing details about [Do I really want to brag about a 3-hour Top Model binge?], but it is culture to consume, and it is enjoyable!

I find it hard to have the same "guilty pleasure" connection to books, because I view any reading as good reading! And maybe it's something about the effort that goes into creating the product—even the most formulaic of novels has taken hours for an author to craft, with re-reads, edits, and re-writes. There's a purposeful effort behind it, more than just pointing a camera to see what happens.

So when I came to the "guilty pleasure" category of the Read Harder Challenge, I had to just pick something more entertaining than literary, something I read for fun rather than enlightenment. Ergo, I chose a Sarah Dessen novel I hadn't yet read, Just Listen.

In it, Annabel is beginning her junior year, but it's off to a rough start. Her ex-best friend Sophie will no longer speak to her—she's a social outcast now; and at home, Annabel is afraid of breaking her mother's heart by quitting her modeling career, and her older sister is struggling with anorexia, no doubt brought on by her own modeling career. We, the reader, discover that Annabel can trace all her bad juju to one night at the end of last school year. It was the night her life took a one-eighty and Sophie became her bully instead of her friend.

Annabel's only school savior is Owen, a boy she certainly would've never noticed before. He's tall, dark, and mysterious. He has a bad-boy reputation. Mostly he's just a music-obsessed outsider that doesn't care a thing about high school politics. Their burgeoning friendship gives Annabel the confidence to confront the issues that plague her and make peace with the events and people that turned her life around.

Dessen's books are wonderful—maybe one could say in that "guilty pleasure" way—because they're too serious to be fluff but too lighthearted to be heavy. They feature the everyday, realistic issues that teen girls face, and though each situation is entirely unique (as is every teenage girl), the resulting emotions are universal. Just Listen is actually probably the heaviest of Dessen's I've read, dealing with issues like sexual assault and slut shaming, though in a quieter, less upfront way than other teen novels covering the same topics. In my opinion, these are issues important for middle schoolers to read about, because they do, unfortunately, exist in their worlds. This book is a good entry into heavier talking points.

No comments: