Title: This Song Will Save Your Life
Author: Leila Sales
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (BYR)
Released: 17th September 2013
Rating: 4 of 5 stars
When I looked back over the synopsis before I started this, I wondered what had made me add it in the first place. I'm not usually into books with high school issues like popularity. But really, the answer is quite simple: music. Second to my love of reading is my love of music, and a book with music in it is even more irresistible than chocolate cake. But you know, reading this, I discovered that this book is about so much more than popularity. It's about finding out who you are and accepting who you are. Music is a way of enabling that, and we can see just how powerful it is here.
Elise Dembowski is unpopular and without friends. She can't pinpoint what it is that makes her different from everyone else, but whatever she does she still stands out. So, in one final attempt to change all this, she changes her appearance and catches up on all the latest celeb gossip. When this fails, she's ready to give up - not just on popularity, but on life. But that doesn't go to plan, either, so she takes to long walks at night, unable to sleep. On one of these walks she meets Vicky and Pippa at a warehouse party, and is introduced to Char, the DJ. Suddenly Elise has found acceptance and friendship and a hidden talent that will redefine her life.
There is something entirely unique and refreshing about Elise's voice. The first word that came to mind when I was reading this was 'dignified', which may seem strange given her suicide plan and her thoughts on her life. But her voice is quiet and honest, even funny. She challenges the reader to judge her, and she's right. We can't possibly dictate what she should do and how she should feel unless we've been through her experiences. She kept her feelings from her parents, and I could see why. They aren't exactly the most astute, and one anecdote she shared about her father showed him incapable of dealing with her problems appropriately. Nor was her mother much better. It was nice to see them communicate more towards the end, however. But what I especially loved was seeing Elise come into her own, transforming from someone who desperately wanted to fit in to realising her own worth and refusing to let anyone get in the way of who she was.
My favourite character after Elise had to be Vicky. This girl proved herself to be an amazing friend, accepting and supportive, loyal, honest. I loved Mel, too. Pippa wasn't the person I thought she was, but I was glad to see some measure of growth in her by the end. I'm not sure about Char. He was a nice guy who liked being a DJ, and he really helped Elise by mentoring her; on some level, he did care about her. But at the same time he's someone trying to get somewhere in life and he doesn't like that Elise is better than him at DJing. He's not the type of person to commit to anyone. But I think underneath it all, he's sort of like Elise: when he DJs, he gets to be someone else, someone who matters. Perhaps he's not as relatable, but we can understand him from a more objective viewpoint. Sales has created quite a realistic range of characters here.
This Song Will Save Your Life is a very powerful novel. I haven't talked about the music, but I will say that it is explored incredibly well. I loved Elise's voice and the beautiful way that Leila Sales has explored issues of identity. I had a smile on my face for a long time while reading this,, and I have honestly not read anything like it. This novel is definitely not one to be missed.