just listen

Sarah Dessen has a steady hand at writing emotionally involving YA books with female protagonists.  Her stories are usually about coming of age in one way or another, and this story is about Annabel Greene, whose two sisters have been in so much trouble lately (one nearly dying from anorexia) that she has stuffed her own problems deep out of sight.  Problems like the fact that she was raped by her best friend's boyfriend last summer, and her best friend Sophie dumped her over it because she blamed Annabel for being a "slut."  Now school has started, but Annabel still hasn't told a soul what really happened, and endures Sophie's stream of verbal abuse in silence and alone.  Until, one day, she starts to really talk to the guy who also sits alone at lunch.  Their friendship blossoms into romance, but then screeches to a halt when Annabel goes into total shut-down mode and can't tell him why she's so upset.  It's many things, but the main one is that Sophie's new best friend Emily was also attacked by her creepy boyfriend but has told the police and is pressing charges.

There's a history of friend-dumping behind this story... Sophie dumped Annabel, but back when Sophie first moved to town Annabel dumped her then life-long best friend Clarke for Sophie.  But Clarke begins to reach out to Annabel, and Emily makes a shrewd guess about what happened and approaches her as well.  Annabel stays silent for awhile, but she watches Clarke and Emily with their new friends.  Emily especially, with her seemingly unshakable confidence, makes an impression on Annabel.  So Annabel finally reaches out to Owen, and then to her family.  They rally, the trial is a success (Sophie's ex is put behind bars), and Annabel really begins to move on.  She even considers reaching out to Sophie, but all the time she has had to reflect makes her realize that this particular bridge isn't hers to mend.  As Owen said, if people close to you can't get over being upset with you then "'...maybe you weren't as close with them as you thought. 
     'Meaning what?'
     'Meaning that if someone is really close with you, your getting upset or them getting upset is okay, and they don't change because of it.  It's just part of the relationship.  It happens.  You deal with it.'
     'You deal with it,' I said.  'I wouldn't even know how to do that.'
     'Well, that makes sense,' he said.  'Considering you never let it happen in the first place.'" (p. 151)

Dessen is a go-to author for me for good reads during busy times.  I'd recommend her work generally, and while some of her books have won awards, I find them all to be similar enough in tone that, if you like one, you generally like them all. 

*****

And speaking of reading in general, I came across this press release about a study by Shira Gabriel at SUNY Buffalo that shows that readers identify with characters like vampires and wizards.  It suggests that readers feel such a sense of belonging when they are reading that the experience actually alters their self-image somewhat, making them feel like the characters they read about.  I don't seem to have full-text access to the article itself (quick searching goes back to 2009 for recent articles in Psychological Science) so I'll have to wait to read that.  But it's an interesting tidbit, and makes me think of some blog post this past year when I wrote about my own sense of belonging that comes from reading fiction or, in some cases, memoir.