Release Date: 09/17/13
Source: Physical ARC via publisher
Published by: Farrar Straus Giroux
This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.
Told in a refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice, THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE is an exuberant novel about identity, friendship, and the power of music to bring people together.
1. (+) Elise, the protagonist - Socially awkward. Independent. Loves music. Loves her family. Precocious. Teaches herself things in her free time. Diligent. Obsessive about the things she loves. Goes above and beyond for the projects she adopts in the summer or does for school. Somewhat judgmental. Good-hearted. Smart. Funny in a dry way. The thing about Elise and her voice is that from page one, whereupon she details the attempts she's made to change herself into someone "cool," she pulls you into her story. She wanted to belong someplace, and it took quite a while to discover what that meant for her.
2. (+) DJing/Music/World-building - Look, I am terrible with music. I didn't start really listening to any until I was in eleventh grade. I just wasn't interested. This book made me wish I had been. There are so many musical references that I imagine music lovers will LOVE this book and those of you like me who aren't as familiar will want to google various tracks or listen to the playlist the publisher has provided. I consider it a total success when the author gets you so invested into the world of music and DJing that you find yourself curious enough to research the details in your own time.
3. (+) Romance - This romance does exactly what it needs to do: advance Elise's character growth. Char is exactly who Elise needs at the beginning of her journey. He's definitely screwed up and makes mistakes, but that's covered by his charisma, charm, confidence - his drawing Elise from her shell and into the world of Start and DJing so that she could discover her passion. He has many swoon-worthy moments and quite a few dickish ones too, but the best part is that the romance does not take an undue focus in the story; it is there to fuel and work with the other plots.
4. (+) Character Cast - !!!! Those of you who want more familial involvement in YA? You've got here in Elise's divorced old musician father and her focused-on-fairness mother (and her stepfamily, including Alex, Neil, and Steve.) Elise spends time at both her father's & mother's house, and I loved how both families and home environments were contrasted in the story. Those of you who want more strong female friendships in YA? Hello, Vicky and Pippa (to an extent). Vicky functions on a similar level to Char, showing Elise another world and side to herself with her confidence, passion, support, and wisdom. This book has a lot of side characters; the important ones are developed while others remain slightly stereotypical, but they work well within the framework of the story being told, and the characters you do get to see more of? Well, they're fantastic. For a comparison, think of Sarah Dessen and her large yet developed side casts.
5. (+) Portrayal of Social Isolation - This book. Gah. I haven't experienced the level of social isolation that Elise did, but if you've ever felt on the sideline just once, or even just had that moment of not belonging, you will be able to identify with her experience. Your experience may have been more or less extreme than hers and your methods of coping quite different from her own, but in the end, this is the sort of experience that I imagine translates across all age categories.
6. (+) Other Themes - By far, my favorite theme and aspect of this entire novel was the focus on self-love. Learning to embrace yourself, flaws and all. This is the kind of book that I could've used a few years back. This is the kind of book that parents may not always approve of (sneaking out; Char) but would probably want their teens to read. The other themes explored besides self-love, social isolation, the power of music include how to belong and what that means, the various forms of friendship, bullying, methods of coping (with social isolation), and family. This is a celebration of misfits.
7. (+) Character Development/Plot - I already mentioned my love for the self-love aspect of this book, but did I mention how wonderfully it was developed throughout the book? You see Elise at her absolute worst and you see at her best and there's no question of your rooting for her to find those incremental steps toward her happy place. There were also some really surprising plot twists that I thought were explored in the sort of depth that you don't always get from contemporary; they fed well into Elise's character arc.
8. (+) Writing - This reads to me as a mix of Gayle Forman and Stephanie Perkins, and is rather reminiscent of Eleanor & Park (but less of the star-crossed love and more focus on the individual) - it's got that mix of inner truth in the narrative (Forman) but with such utter empathy and voice (Perkins) that the dark humor and emotional moments truly shine. While the occasional second person perspective and addressing of the audience does not work in other books, it did in this novel, especially when put next to Elise's easily believable and sympathetic first person past narrative.
9. (+) Pacing - At 288 pages, this was perfect. Just the right length for me to feel that Elise had undergone a lot of character development, that the romance and the other characters were done perfectly. Just the length and pacing to keep you engaged.
10. (+) The Cover - I love this. The headphones, looking off into the distance, her clothes, the font treatment. Highlighting "love" in red. Beautiful. And I'm glad they changed the title from The Suicide Playlist, as I think this one now emphasizes the character growth more.
A beautifully rendered story on social isolation and self-love, This Song Will Save Your Life features a brave protagonist whose love for music and emotional journey are so poignant that you'll be hooked until the very last page. Highly recommended, especially for music lovers and contemporary fans (of Rainbow Rowell and Gayle Forman). This book nearly made me cry, and I've cried maybe two? three? times ever while reading a book.
If I haven't convinced you, look at the Goodreads page. I don't know about you, but nearly all my trusted friends have rated this one five stars. The most I can do is refer you to that page and hope that this one gets stocked anywhere and everywhere!
Also I'm giving away my ARC in the hopes that one of you will read and post about this book too, or hey, just plain ole' enjoy reading this wonderful story. Giveaway is international!