Sunday, February 16, 2014

Review: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: September 21, 2013
Page Count: 274
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Goodreads & Amazon

Elise Dembowski is even more unpopular than the most unpopular kids at school. The daughter of a former rockstar father and activist mother, she has always been the best at everything, except for becoming popular. One summer, she attempts to change this. She watches all of the popular music, reads all of the latest celebrity gossip magazines, and follows the hottest trends. When she returns to school, it's painfully obvious that things aren't going to change for her popularity status, and she makes a bold move that backfires entirely. Six months later, she is more ostracized than ever. Her parents won't leave her alone, and she can't sleep at night. She takes to slipping out of her mother's house late at night, exploring her town with earbuds in her ears. That is how, in the middle of the night on a street full of warehouses, she finds Start--the hottest underground dance club in town. Start could be the new start of her life Elise has been looking for all along. She meets the loud and flamboyant set of best friends Pippa and Vicky, Mel, a wise bouncer, and DJ Char, a charming young DJ who takes Elise under his wing and breathes life into a passion she never knew she had.
You think it's so easy to change yourself.
You think it's so easy, but it's not.
What do you think it takes to reinvent yourself as an all-new person, a person who makes sense, who belongs? Do you change your clothes, your hair, your face? Go on, then. Do it. Pierce your ears, trim your bangs, buy a new purse. They will still see past that, see you, the girl who is still too scared, still too smart for her own good, still a beat behind, still, always, wrong. Change all you want; you can't change that.
I know because I tried.
I was born to be unpopular.
I was really looking forward to this book. I've heard nothing but rave reviews about it from several bloggers, and it held a theme that I could easily relate to: being saved by music. I've had my fair share of teen angst, and feeling like I didn't 'fit in' with a particular group. Even though Elise's friend/school situation is much more dire than mine ever was, I could still sympathize with her struggle to fit in. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed by this one, and most of it stemmed from Elise's character. We know her to be the butt of every joke since elementary school, the perpetual outcast that only has two friends who sit on the very outskirts of the cafeteria circle. Everyone else in the school is out to get Elise and make her life miserable. This is why I was so surprised to read Elise as such a judgmental character. She judges her two friends for being so unpopular and lame, even though they are very sweet to her. She judges her father's attempts of 'staying young' with his one-hit-wonder rock band from the seventies. She judges her classmates and their interests very harshly. Her cynicism makes sense given her being the brunt of her classmates torture, but it was disappointing, especially, to see her being harsh to those who love her and were there for her. For some reason, I also had a hard time believing that EVERY single student in her high school hated her and was out to get her.
School was normal, which is to say soul-crushingly depressing. I sat in class and wrote the lyrics to "Dancing in the Dark" in my best cursive handwriting in the margins of my notebook. I imagined Vicky sweeping into the room, with Pippa stalking in behind her on four-inch heels, and announcing to the class, "Elise is with us! None of you appreciate her, and you don't even deserve her. Elise, it's time. We are here to take you to your real life. You have suffered long enough through this one, but this was only a test, and the test is over now." And then I would rise to my feet and join hands with them, and together we would run off into the sunset.
The parts of this novel that truly shined were when Elise was at Start with Vicky, Pippa, Mel, and Char. This was where Elise was most positive, for one thing, but it was also where we could really feel her passion. When she is up in the DJ booth, staring down at a crowd of people screaming and dancing to music that she has chosen to play, we feel her adoration for the music and the people, and we feel the power and control that she is able to grasp up there that she isn't able to grasp anywhere else. I also liked the friends she had at Start, because unlike the bullies that terrorize Elise at school, they were round, three-dimensional characters. The bullies at school never grow into being anything other than bullies. Pippa, Vicky, and Char are all awesome to and for Elise, and they all seem so comfortable in their skin, but they had to climb mountains to get there, and learning what those mountains were like turned them into real people. I wanted to be friends with and dance with Vicky. I was charmed by Char. I was enlightened by Mel. All of these characters were very wonderful, and it made me wish that the whole book could have stayed in Start. There is also a lot of really amazing music mentioned. From The Cure to The Breeders to New Order, a lot of awesome music is played at Start, and if this book inspires kids these days to give The Smiths a try, or fully develop an appreciation for the opening of Love Will Tear Us Apart, then I'm all for it!
"Enough sad tales of my youth," Vicky said. "Your turn, Elise. Who are you in the teen movie of our lives?"
I opened my mouth, then closed it. I'm a super-cool under-ground DJ sensation, I wanted to say. But that wasn't right. Char had just made it clear that I was nothing of the sort. I'm the super-cool underground DJ's girlfriend. But I wasn't that either. Who was I? 
I stayed up very late into the night reading this book. Even though I didn't much like Elise as a character and didn't appreciate her horrible attitude towards those who love her, I wanted to see something go right for her, and she does eventually start to see a flaw in her line of thinking, which was redeeming for her. There is also a fair share of drama being thrown in her path. She is deceiving her parents by sneaking out, so that raises the stakes of her underground DJ career, and, like in every love affair, there are some kinks along the way, and I powered through them wanting to know how everything works out.

This Song Will Save Your Life is definitely for anyone who has ever felt left out or put down. And if you haven't been left out or put down in a big way like Elise, then you've at least probably felt the power of music, which is all over in this novel.
3.5 stars


  1. I hate it when a book isn't as wonderful as I was hoping it would be. :-/

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