Release Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Age Group: Young Adult
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
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.
This is my third Leila Sales novel, and I thought I knew what to expect after reading 2010’s Mostly Good Girls and 2011’s Past Perfect—quirky characters, a distinctly awesome female voice, and lots of laughs. Her latest, This Song Will Save Your Life, has the first two, but it brings something just as welcome as humor. It brings hard truths, surprises, and all of my favorite Britpop jams.
Elise is a tough sell of a protagonist, but not because she is unlikeable. It’s more like she’s rough around the edges. Even at her bristliest (most bristly?), you still want her to succeed. Elise is a very smart girl, but she’s also 16, and thus she makes 16-year-old decisions. I occasionally read reviews where someone claims to not like a character because they make bad choices. Personally, I don’t agree with that reasoning. Elise makes some terrible choices here regarding herself, her safety, and her parents, but I don’t see these things as reasons to dislike her. I see those as pieces of her character, and every “bad” choice gives the reader more insight into who Elise really is. She wears her issues like a badge of honor (or, more accurately, like a scar on her wrist), and people like that can make other feel uncomfortable. (I think it’s because those people make other confront their own issues, but that is neither here nor there.) I love Elise’s voice, I love how she thinks, and I wish I could spend more time with her.
There’s only a bit of “romance” in This Song Will Save Your Life, which absolutely works for me. I know, it’s shocking, right? Despite my love of a strong romantic storyline, I don’t believe that all YA books need to have a plethora of kissing scenes. Here, the romantic element appears, but it doesn’t overpower the story and it’s handled well (and in a somewhat fresh manner for the typical YA book). Oh, DJ This Charming Man. You got it half right, anyway. However, what it “lacks” in romance, it totally makes up for in music references. At the risk of sounding more ridiculous than usual, I have been a hipster since before that was a thing, so I love every single name drop. The Cure, The Smiths, Blur, Pulp, LCD Soundsystem, Belle & Sebastian, The Rapture-- yes, yes, and yes please. I wish Start was a place I could actually go, because this is absolutely my kind of club.
What I found myself thinking throughout the entire story is I don’t understand why Leila Sales isn’t a household name. Girl can write, and she can write more than one kind of story. She tackles the heavy topic of teenage suicide a totally non-After-School-Special way. Yes, it’s serious and it’s handled with care, but it’s never preachy. I’d already declared myself a fangirl of Leila’s after reading Past Perfect in one sitting, but this only solidifies it. This gets a special bonus of taking place in Rhode Island. I could accept any and all of the seemingly impossible bits like a teenage girl wandering the streets alone at night or an underground mobile dance party because of this, and you would too if you’ve ever lived in The Ocean State.