In this respect, I am in synch with the two protagonists at the center of the two 2007 Teens Top Ten novels that I read while on my extended vacation from this blog. Annabel Greene, a high school student in Sarah Dessen's Just Listen, seems to "have it all": a devoted mother, a promising modeling career, beautiful sisters, and wonderful friends. Over the course of this novel, however, we learn that all is not as it seems, as Annabel struggles to confront the pain and disappointment at the heart of her relationships to her mother, sisters, her modeling career, and especially friends. Confronting anger and talking about emotions is not something that Annabel does easily; it takes her the entire novel to come to terms with her situation. As a reader, I found myself practically yelling at her to do what she clearly needs to do at the very end of the novel. But Annabel's reluctance to change, and her avoidance of personal responsibility, appears to be the point: going against the grain is never easy, especially in an era where image is everything and so many advantages are being bestowed upon those who stay inside the lines.
Although the situation is very different in Firegirl, by Tony Abbott, the theme of avoidance again is front and center. In this instance, the main character, Tom, is a 7th grader grappling, along with his classmates, with the arrival of Jessica, a young girl who has been horribly scarred by a fire. Unlike his classmates, and especially his best friend Jeff, Tom reaches out to Jessica, and learns the truth about her tragedy. However, like his classmates and even Jessica's parents, Tom practices a good deal of avoidance, too. The narrative here is simpler than in Just Listen--Firegirl is ideally suited for fifth, sixth, and seventh graders, whereas Just Listen is more appropriate for teens in 8th grade and up--and much less frustrating in terms of character development and behavior. But again, we see a central character unevenly negotiating a way toward greater personal responsibility and awareness of the many options that exist out in the world for living a fulfilling life.