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 Song Will Save Your Life follows Elise Dembowski, a passionate girl who flings herself wholeheartedly into life and pursues her diverse interests with a reckless abandon. Well, at least she did, until she realized that being passionate and interesting just made her an easier target – for judgement, for laughter, for bullying. Elise decides to blend by embracing anything and everything that’s “in” in an effort to discourage the teasing and bullying, but, much to her disappointment, she finds even this carefully planned effort to escape loneliness isn’t enough. And then, unexpectedly, everything changes. One night Elise stumbles across a secret party, where she meets people who don’t know that she’s the unpopular, constantly mocked Elise Dembowski. Instead, she’s an interesting girl with good taste in music and a natural skill for DJing. Elise loses – and finds – herself during her clandestine nights at the secret warehouse parties, but the double life she’s carefully cultivated can’t last forever.
Though it’s alluded to in the novel’s description, I really didn’t realize how much of This Song Will Save Your Life would focus on bullying and suicide, nor did I realize how much it would affect me. This book reminded me how powerful a bully can be and how senseless bullying is. I was ridiculously angry at the kids in the book that picked on Elise over the years for absolutely no reason. Not that there is ever a situation that warrants bullying, but Elise, with her passion and interesting hobbies, is awesome! And I couldn’t understand how her peers couldn’t see how awesome she is.
When Elise finally gives up on winning the approval of her peers, I cheered for her. It was difficult to see her try to win over people who so clearly didn’t appreciate what she had to offer (friendship with an interesting, unique person!) and see the resulting low self-esteem take hold and inevitable, self-questioning of what was wrong with her (rather than what was wrong with them). I think that this aspect of the book really shone: Elise taking charge of her life, in spite of the haters, and reaffirming what she believed in and cared about, to hell with all of them!
There is a small amount of romance in This Song Will Save Your Life, but it’s definitely not the focus of the story. The romance elements seemed to be included to illustrate Elise’s growth and the changes in her self-worth. The true romance in this book is between Elise, the music, and the sense of pride it allows her.
I highly recommend all of Leila Sales’ novels, This Song Will Save Your Life included. Not only is this a great story about overcoming bullying and finding yourself, music lovers will appreciate the mentions of fantastic bands and songs!
Farrar, Staus, & Giroux, September 2013, Hardcover, ISBN:9780374351380, 288 pgs.