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A Reader of Fictions: Review: This Song Will Save Your Life

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life

Author: Leila Sales
Pages: 288
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Read: September 11-12, 2013
Source: ARC from publisher

Description from Goodreads:
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.

First Sentence: "You think it's so easy to change yourself."

Just the other day on Twitter, I mentioned the fact that I couldn't really think of any YA heroines whose high school experience in any way recalled my own, and along comes This Song Will Save Your Life. For this reason, This Song was a really personal read for me, one that I found immensely moving, comforting, and beautiful. As a teenager, I wish Leila Sales' book had already been out, because it would have immensely helped and comforted my teenage self.

In the opening chapter of This Song Will Save Your Life, the reader meets Elise Dembowski, an incredibly unhappy but brilliant girl. Elise does not struggle academically and has a loving family; her divorced parents have worked out a great system, and do the best they can for her. However, Elise has never fit in with the other kids at school, and she's sick of being friendless and lonely. Being a girl who generally can accomplish anything she sets her mind to, she spends the whole summer learning how to be cool and just like the other kids. However, the first day of sophomore year does not go as planned and Elise decides to skip the second half of the day and commit suicide, all hope lost. And, I promise, this really is all in the first chapter.

Now, this may seem melodramatic to you, but all of this resonated with me so incredibly strongly. I see so much of myself in Elise Dembowski: her bitterness and desperation, her thoughts that maybe it won't be better and that it would be best to end it all. In my case, I never seriously contemplated suicide, but I did think about it, imagining everyone fraught with guilt and sadness that they never appreciated me in life. Like Elise, I really didn't have friends and could not understand why everyone was either antagonistic to me or completely ignored me. In her, I see what I also later learned about myself: the fact that part of the reason people avoided me was my own attitude, one I hardly realized I had. Though I was not actively bullied like Elise (at least in high school), everything she felt and experienced was so close to my own life in that period.

From there, Elise's experience no longer mirrors my own, but continues to be emotionally resonant and touching. This Song Will Save Your Life really is a story of a girl finding herself and discovering her passions. She's learning to accept who she is and how much happier life is when you stop judging yourself by the rules of society, and do and be what makes you happy. Accepting society's definition of yourself is so easy to do; learning to reject this is a crucial life lesson. I myself learned that in college and I have been so much more satisfied with life since, because I could finally quit chasing after things I don't actually want just because society says I should want them.

Unlike so much YA fiction, This Song Will Save Your Life focuses much more on family and friendship than on romance. I love Elise's family so much. Sales depicts a healthy example of both divorce and remarriage. Both her single father and her mother, remarried with two more children, love her and take good care of her. Elise's family situation is healthy, and, even when Elise misbehaves, they support her and really do encourage her in her pursuits. Even Elise's little siblings are adorable, and her relations with her younger sister Alex broke my heart.

With regards to friendship, Sales presents a realistic portrayal of high school dynamics. There's the stereotypical mean girl and brutish jocks, as well as the outcasts. However, Sales goes beyond the stereotypes and shows the ways that people can surprise you if you let them. Again, Elise's journey highlights the way that she pushes people away without realizing she's doing so, all the time desperately wishing for someone to like her.

Finally, the romance, which me being the person I am, I can't not talk about. Elise differs so greatly from the average YA heroine. There's not an instaloving bone in her body. She clearly distinguishes between lust and love. When a guy does something questionable, she will call him on it, being the forthright person she is. For once, I understand the motivations and logic of a YA heroine in her reactions with guys. All I'll say is that the romance was handled perfectly, precisely the way I hoped, and entirely in an atypical way for young adult novels.

This Song Will Save Your Life is a book that I could see saving lives. I sincerely hope that young people who are friendless and desperate, who do not understand why no one likes them, find this book and know that they're not alone. It will get better, maybe not as soon as it did for Elise, but, out there in the world, there are kindred spirits and, if you hold on, you'll find them.

Rating: 5/5

Favorite Quote: "Sometimes people think they know you. They know a few facts about you, and they piece you together in a way that makes sense to them. And if you don't know yourself very well, you might even believe that they are right. But the truth is, that isn't you. That isn't you at all."

Don't Take My Word for It:
Birth of a New Witch's word: "took far too long for a book just 288 pages long" - 2.5 stars
The Social Potato's word: "painful (in a good way)" - 4 stars
Lili's Reflections' word: "It took me to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows." - 5 stars

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Blogger Alexia Boesen said...

I'm so excited to read this one. Everyone I've talked to,has LOVED this book.

September 16, 2013 at 12:18 AM  
Blogger Disquietus said...

I'm so glad you loved this one. I completely agree with everything you have to say in this review. Her family was one of the best things about the book and I loved the way her romance was handled.

September 16, 2013 at 8:54 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

With good reason.

September 16, 2013 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Me too! I'm always afraid I'll end up a black sheep, but I loved every single page of this book. *happy sighs*

September 16, 2013 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger Jenni said...


So happy that you were able to form such a connection with this one. Like you, I loved the stress that was put on her family and how those relationships felt much more prominent than the romance. Her & Alex's relationship also had me in pieces. I really need to read the other book I have of Sales... Most Girls Are.. it might be called that. Have you read that one already?

September 16, 2013 at 11:31 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

I loved this book!! My review is up today too. I think that this is such a fabulous book about discovering who you are and what makes you happy. I loved that Elise's voice was real. I think this was just a beautiful book. Awesome review!!!

September 16, 2013 at 12:32 PM  
Blogger Hmm said...

I love how almost every review of this book is willing to go so personal. Knowing you now, I never would have expected you to ever have been bitter and friendless. It's lovely when you find that book that basically tells your life story. I don't think this book can be anymore hyped now. I want to read it so much!

September 16, 2013 at 12:37 PM  
Blogger meg said...

While I love books that teach young adults to embrace/love themselves, I do not love books that deal heavily with suicide. But you gave it 5/5? I am very torn on this one. TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!

September 16, 2013 at 2:01 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

YES YES YES. Oh I'm so happy you liked this one. I wasn't sure how you'd feel about it, but since you had that personal experience and can relate, I think that immediately makes this one just reach out and pull you in. I didn't have Elise's experience with DJ'ing but I WAS bullied (and talked briefly about it on my blog and in my upcoming review) and my heart hurt SO deeply for her.

I loved that there were strong friendships AND strong family dynamics. YA, NA, Adult books ALL need that so much more than they have these days.

Lovely review!

Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

September 16, 2013 at 2:40 PM  
Blogger Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer said...

Beautiful review, and I am glad this touched you. From the subject matter to the strong friendships and family this sounds wonderful. I love that the author was able to make things feel genuine and gave the characters such voice. Lovely review!

September 16, 2013 at 8:25 PM  
Blogger Lyn Kaye said...

SO many awesome reviews for this book - I suppose I am going to have to add it to my wish list!

September 16, 2013 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger Nori said...

Wow! You make me want to read this so bad! I just got a copy to review, and I'm thinking I'll have to push it up toward the top of my TBR piles.

September 17, 2013 at 10:50 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I've seen this title floating around the blogosphere, but I'm always suspicious of contemporary YA novels (unless they are written by my trusty authors, Deb Caletti and Sarah Dessen), but the moment you said the focus was on family and friends, and that she has a great family - you sold me!

September 17, 2013 at 12:02 PM  

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