This Song Will Save Your Lifeby Published 17 Sep 2013
|This Song Will Save Your Life.pdf|
|Publisher||Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)|
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" Reviews
"Don't be special." That's what I would say to my younger self if I could pinpoint the moment when I went astray. But there was no one moment. I was always astray.
Uh oh. Brace yourself, fellow fiction lovers, I'm about to tell you a true story. My own, in fact.
^So, I was kind of a weird kid. And I had one hell of a bad time in school. I'm talking particularly about when I was aged 11-16. I was that special breed of socially clueless where I simply just didn't get it. I didn't know how to not be weird, I didn't know what the right thing was to say, I didn't understand why it wasn't okay to put my hand up and tell the teacher I'd finished the work twenty minutes before the lesson ended. So I walked around that school with a sign around my neck that said "victim" and I didn't know how to get rid of it. They called me fat, they hated my hair, they called me frigid one minute and a slut the next, they walked into me on purpose, they knocked my things on the floor, they dared boys to ask me out just to see if I would believe them. And every time I would change. I kept thinking there was some unwritten rule that I just had to figure out and then I would be the person they wanted me to be. What I didn't understand until a long time after is that everything I did broke the one social rule above all others - I cared too much.
People latch onto things so quickly in high school. Sometimes it was a twisted version of the truth about something I'd said or done; other times I couldn't even imagine where the rumour came from, it was a complete lie that was complete truth by lunchtime. I wonder if Ms Sales has experienced this herself because Elise's story so closely resembles the reality. It's so... honest. It says the things that uplifting books about bullying never say. People are always saying that you have to tell someone, that's supposed to be the first crucial step. But the reality is that no amount of phone calls from your parents or meetings with teachers can change the way people see you or change the person you are. This book shows that. And, in reality, the bullied kid doesn't turn up in the end dressed like Sandy from Grease with the winning lottery ticket in their hand, laughing at all the people who made fun of them. In real life, there is no revenge... but not only that, and this is the thing every bullied kid doesn't like to admit, but there's no desire for revenge. When you play out that scenario in your head of the mean kids changing their mind and deciding to ask you to join their little clique, you don't imagine yourself saying no and laughing in their faces. The sad awful thing about it is that you would be grateful. Fucking grateful that someone actually thinks you're alright.
The parallels I drew between this book and my life left me in awe. If you replaced music with books, then Sales could very well be telling the story of my life for 90% of the novel. I recognised every single character, I related to every single emotion Elise had. It was a painful journey but strangely incredible as well, to see the way you felt shared by someone else - even a fictional person. This is a raw, moving, fantastic book that still manages to drop in some humour despite being much darker than readers will expect from the author. This is something I have to stress: it's completely unlike Past Perfect and Mostly Good Girls. If you're wanting more like that, you're going to be disappointed.
There was another aspect of this book that hit close to home and it happens early enough that I don't consider it a spoiler to talk about it. During my time in school, I had one last thing that I clung to: my grades. They were good. And in my head they were my ticket away from all the crap of school - I would get a good job and never have to worry about this shit again. But this one afternoon, I went into class and we got our grades back from our coursework. And I got a B. I know what you're thinking, haha, a B. A B... big fucking deal, right? And it should have been nothing. It would have been nothing, a minuscule drop in the ocean of life. Except no, because that drop landed in an ocean that was on the brink of overflowing. And I walked out of the classroom that day, just got up and walked out and walked (I noticed) the exact same number of miles that Elise walked (5) until I got home. One difference between the two of us was that she got a razor and I got pills. The other difference is that she didn't go through with it. I did.
There's a lot I regret about that day, about how selfish I was and how, in that moment, I didn't think about a single other human being. Most of all, I regret that my ten year old sister was the one to find me. I regret that she had to be the one to call my mum at work and tell her that her daughter had tried to do something unthinkable. I remember the looks on their faces afterwards when they heard of that B, the question hung in the air "who does something like this because they got a B?" I didn't know how to tell them that it wasn't the B. It wasn't a thing or a person or a moment that I could point to. It was everything. And I think This Song Will Save Your Life captures that feeling perfectly. The feeling of many small things building over time until the weight of them becomes too much. On their own, they're nothing. It's pathetic to even make a big deal about any single one of them... but together, they're suffocating.
I'm sorry if you're not a fan of very personal reviews but this was a very personal read for me, it was inevitable. I've thought about this rating really hard and I've pulled apart my decision to give it five stars because I've always given out the full rating sparingly. But I think, looking back, this book was really special for me. And not just for me. Looking at it as objectively as is humanly possible, I think this book managed to be a lot of things: emotional, sad, funny, honest and inspiring. I noticed how well-drawn each character was, even the secondary characters. Each relationship was important in its own way and wasn't neglected, this book actually had several small stories going on that together made up the whole. And the conclusion didn't try to convince me that everything changes and people walk off into the sunset holding hands and smiling. Many people didn't change and the bad guys didn't learn their lesson, but I appreciated that touch of realism a lot more.
I've rarely felt so relieved that a character got where they needed to be despite everything bad that had happened to them. Elise has a special place in my heart, as does this book. In case you were wondering, I got to where I needed to be too. And my ten year old sister and I talked a lot about what happened; she's now a beautiful and talented sixteen year old and my closest friend.
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At the end of January I asked my friends on goodreads to recommend me their favorite books/the books that brought them to tears. I got A TON of responses... messages, comments, direct recommendations. So I decided to pick the ones that were most recommended and do a massive book haul just off books recommended to me. I got around 15 books. One of the books that was suggested several times to me was This Song Will Save Your Life.
I was really skeptical at first about reading this because the first one of these recommended books I read I was let down by... This isn't the case with this book. Even though This Song Will Save Your Life was a suggested book, recently I've decided to go into books blind. So within the first few chapters I was really shocked about what this story turned into. When the "issue" happens and then is carried throughout the story I never originally saw it coming. It hit me hard too... Pretty sure I said "someone call a barista because this roast just got dark"... And I was worried that this heavy cloud was going to rain all over this book parade for me. It didn't
If my bookshelf at home wasn't arranged in alphabetical order than I put place this book right beside The Truth About Alice. I would more than likely say they were sister reads as well. This book hit my heart the same way that story did. Because Elise is someone I could easily relate to. Her struggles were some of the same I had to face when I was in high school. Elise's character development doesn't truly start toward close to the end of this story and I that would normally be a turn off for me, but it wasn't. The fact that it started so late into her story reminded me so much of my own life tale... because my character development didn't start till later either. I was also very lucky for two reasons in high-school one) that I had my very own Vicky and two) I was wise enough at the time to know that high school wasn't going to determine the rest of my life. I only had one real friend in high-school (who is still my best friend), who didn't judge me, didn't care that I wasn't the popular girl, didn't care that I wasn't interested in designer jeans, and was completely fine with my head always being in clouds because I'm a special breed of weird.
Books like This Song Will Save Your Life and The Truth About Alice are books that I wish were written and read when I was in school. They are coming of ages stories that just SHOULDN'T be missed. I'm writing this short and vague review just to rant in general about the amazing-ness that is this book. In hopes that you will just go out and buy it yourself. People will relate in some way to this book. There’s at least one character in this book that you know in real life. Or that you might even have been at some point... Good or bad. On top of all the wonderful things this book has to offer it also managed to flawlessly intertwine music into it. Being a big music person, going to a school of the arts, and taking so many theory classes I was relieved to find myself not having any complaints about it.
I'm so thankful I was recommended this story. A story with a strong lead, a strong plot, and a stronger message.
“You think it's so easy to change yourself. You think it's so easy, but it's not. True, things don't stay the same forever: couches are replaced, boys leave, you discover a song, your body becomes forever scarred. And with each of these moments you change and change again, your true self spinning, shifting positions-- but always at last it returns to you, like a dancer on the floor. Because throughout it all, you are still, always, you: beautiful and bruised, known and unknowable. And isn't that- just you - enough?"
This Song Will Save Your Life isn't the perfect book, but it has the perfect message. This was a book that I thought was going to be slammed with mess, mix messages, and tons of cliches'. It wasn't.
When I first read those glowing 5-star reviews I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book as soon as it came out. Such high expectations.
Sadly this is not for me. How bizarre that I really couldn't connect to it and this story's main character. I don’t like this girl, really I think she is blasé, she is a flake and most of all I hate her for her attitude because she is oh so special.
“I was born to be unpopular”
So starts the story of Elise Dembowski, sweet sixteen but sadly nobody sees her that way. She is bullied, has no friends and her parents are divorced. She is the one that sits alone in the school bus. How pathetic. Guess what? If you wouldn’t listen to your iPod with the earphones constantly plugged in and instead smile once in a while to people, they might actually talk to you.
Everybody I know, really everybody has embarrassing moments in his life and pictures and memories and scars to show for it. It’s called childhood and it’s called growing up. And to think that you’re so special nobody will ever like you for you, that is just simply stupid and arrogant.
For someone who gets bullied, misunderstood and is constantly underestimated at school I thought she might know how wrong it is to being judged by others because of your looks and outward appearance.
But noooohooo for our special Elise all people around her are just stupid, idiots or bitches. She is as much a snob if not worse as anybody else.
I was working on my combination when my friends showed up. You know, Chava and Sally. Those friends. “Just the people I wanted to see!” I said to them, and I wasn’t even sarcastic for once.
From the first page to the last she kept judging people, her friends and even the boy she made out with, everybody. For example: Her cool indie rock is so much better than the popular music.
The one thing I couldn’t bring myself to do was listen to the music. I tried, for nearly an hour. Then I gave uo. It was bad. Not even interesting-bad (…). The popular music wasn’t interesting-bad, it was bad-bad. Auto-Tuned vocalists who couldn’t really sing; offensively simplistic instrumentation; grating melodies. Like they thought we were stupid.
Really? Just because I like to listen or dance to pop music once in a while you oh so special girl can call me stupid and brainless? Elise’s attitude is so offensive to me because the majority of people and especially my friends like all kinds of music. I like to listen to live jazz in a smoky bar, go to classic guitar concerts, I enjoy opera but I really love a DJ who can make me dance with house music. I like indie rock as well as hip hop and don’t you dare tell me I am brainless and offend you because I like listening to “popular music”.
So, because she is this spectacular music genius, after a few hours of practicing she is this AWESOME DJane at this AWESOME underground club, at 16. Suuuure. But not enough, she also gets a job offer after only a few weeks of half-an-hour appearances as DJ for the whole Friday night putting on music until early morning. Seriously? Are fucking kidding me? Maybe that is news to you, but at this age and according to youth labor laws that also apply in the USA as far as I know this is prohibited (it is called: Young Persons Protection of Employment Act ) I believe it is liable to prosecution to put 16 year olds to work after 8 pm. But our Elise is soooo special she is even better than DJ Char, the boy who she made out with during the last weeks, who showed her how to DJ and gave her an opportunity to perform as one in the first place.
Pete took a swig of ginger ale. “If you’re saying that you’re sure I could find some thirty-six-year-old guy who’s spun ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ so many times that he’s able to play Tetris in his phone while he’s DJing, while chugging Red Bull so he can stay awake until four am, then yeah.I’m sure I could find that guy, too. (…) But, Elise, believe me when I tell you this: your talent, your natural talent, puts Char’s to shame.”
Again our oh-so-special Elise is better than anybody else even her “mentor” DJ Char and the Underground Friday Party Night in an old warehouse will be promoted with her picture and her name online in the local newspaper. Let me tell you this: No DJ will attract a crowd because he is an upstart. But of cause special DJ Elise does. And last but not least Prince DJ Char(ming) turns out to be Michael who works as server in Antonio’s Pizzeria and who is “only” a part-time student at the college.
That was Char. It was all laid out for me across the Internet. It was a simple portrait of a person, like a million other people, and I felt the magic of Char float off into the air, as if I’d blown on a pile of dust.
After I had learned all I cared about Michael Kirkby, I looked up my own name. (…) The first two search result were the same as always. (…) But the third result was different. Elise Dembowski suicide had fallen down on the list. The third thing that came up when I typed my own name was Elise Dembowski DJ. I stared at my computer screen for a long moment, and I smiled.
You know what Elise; fuck you and your attitude. You are nothing special. You are like a million other people out there and maybe just maybe I suggest you talk to people instead of judging them. Maybe Michael has a reason for his way of life. But you never cared to know, because you didn’t even want to know his real name. Maybe you should care more about friends and family instead of destroying your sister’s castle and being sarcastic and dismissive to your dad and the people who actually care about you throughout this story.
I really get that she has a hard life in high-school, that she doesn’t like her class mates and being called lesbo because she doesn’t wear a bra at age 16, well it’s not funny but girl really wear a bra, those boobs bounce and jingle and make 16-year-old boys all kinds of horny and say all kinds of nasty things to you.
Being 33 years old I can honestly say I am glad I am out of school. It was a horrible experience sometimes; at least for me. But this novel gives young adults the wrong idea: that if you are an outsider you are special and you just go out at night walk into an underground club and you’ll see how everything changes like in a fairy tale. And no, this is not true. Because I went out at night, and I did go to parties and I met all kinds of wrong people, started taking drugs and have meaningless sex with boys I never met before. And the way Elise takes is not right: her nightly adventures, her making out with Char, sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night…
Everybody is special. Everybody has something good to show, everybody has gone through life altering moments as well. Maybe some people were popular in school. But even they had heartbreak, or have lost dear ones, or have a problematic family situation. It just takes talking to them to get to know people and it takes courage to open up and to confide in others. But sadly our special Elise didn’t really learn this lesson.
So, fun fact: this is the first book I ever read with a character named Elise who wasn't an Archetypal Mean Girl. And oddly enough, this Elise is one of the most relatable characters I've ever read about. She's so much like me, like any of us who didn't grow up popular, that it's almost terrifying.
“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.”
So, yes, Elise is the stereotypical high school unpopular girl, but it's explored in a way that feels so much more real than any other books I've read about the topic. She's not unpopular because of one specific Mean Girl ruining her life - everyone thinks of her as fundamentally lesser. Her socially acceptable actions are framed as weird because she's the weird girl. She can't win. Elise is a character who is trying to be liked, but isn't good enough at hiding her inner self. It helps that the author conveys the school environment so well - the friends of convenience, the fake niceties. Even the school “mean girls” feel completely true-to-life, rather than being caricatures. Elise's struggles spoke to me on such a deep level.
“You think it's so easy to change yourself. You think it's so easy, but it's not. True, things don't stay the same forever: couches are replaced, boys leave, you discover a song, your body becomes forever scarred. And with each of these moments you change and change again, your true self spinning, shifting positions-- but always at last it returns to you, like a dancer on the floor. Because throughout it all, you are still, always, you: beautiful and bruised, known and unknowable. And isn't that - just you - enough.”
The most relatable aspect to me was Elise's need to escape herself by visiting a local DJ club. Maybe it sounds cheesy, but she needs to escape. She's trapped in her life and she just wants to be out. Above all else, I related to this. The author does such a good job conveying that feeling of wanting to escape and be someone else, someone above it all and on top of her life and far more personable, just to be her for a little while.
And you know what else I liked? That she doesn't end the book by making the friends she needs and riding off into the sunset. The conclusion of this novel is far less Explicit Narrative Punishment than most would be.
What stuck out to me most of all was how the author validates Elise's feelings. At no point do we get some decrying of Elise for being petty and leaving the school - that's not the story Leila Sales wants. Elise, as a character, is given far more narrative and personal agency than characters in YA contemporary often are.
Above all else, This Song Will Save Your Life is a personal story. It's poignant and full of vivid characters, an easy read and a memorable one.
So why didn't this book get five stars? One thing and one thing only: the romance plotline. I can't deal with an underage girl x college age guy romance. Elise is sixteen. She is SIXTEEN. How is this even in the realm of okay? It's nasty, frankly. Yeah, their relationship is consensual and he doesn't know her age, but the age gap is still pretty gross. That disgust kept me from enjoying this book nearly as much as I wanted to.
VERDICT: Aside from the one terrible romance factor, this book was near perfect. I think this would work for all ages, though teens will connect to it more. This Song Will Save Your Life is an absolutely amazing story about growing up on the outside, and I can't recommend it enough.
What an amazing, awe-inspiring book! This Song Will Save Your Life is emotional and beautiful; a story that will bring out your happy-tears by its conclusion!
Once in a while there are books where you get to fully and completely connect to the main character to such a degree that you experience it all as if it was your own story with your own emotions. This was one of those books for me. Elise made it incredibly easy to love her. She's funny and smart, but she has never fit in with her classmates. She has an artist's soul, giving all her passion to what she loves; not awarding great importance to frivolous things like fashion or gossip unsurprisingly makes her an outcast at school. The struggles she faces by daring to be herself is heartbreaking. Leila did a great job at making this major part in the story all so very real and relatable. While it had the potential to be an overwhelmingly sad story, instead it focuses on being uplifting, even inspirational. Elise never loses track of who she is, keeping her focus on what makes her happy instead of giving up. She is an amazing person through and through regardless of her flaws. Her doubts, insecurities, and fears captures the feelings of not fitting in to a T.
When Elise does find out where she belongs by doing something she loves - being a DJ - I felt so extremely happy for her. Think about a time you got some great news that made you giddy happy the rest of the day. This was how I felt by the end of this book, complete with happy tears blurring the words. Not even kidding, I could feel the energy of the crowd and the adrenaline pounding Elise's heart with thrill and nervous energy in those moments in the DJ booth. Along the way we meet some witty, energetic characters to color these pages. Even with the smallest of roles - bouncer Mel for instance - they brighten the story every chance they get.
This novel is honest in its entirety, not just with the depiction of high school. Leila approaches romance and sex in a very realistic light, for one. It's not always black and white with happily ever afters. Sometimes romance is just an experience; unclear and lustful, not all-empowering love. I also appreciated that romance was not used - nor needed - to move this story. Furthermore, Elise has a wonderful family unit - 2 actually - that were a significant part of this novel. Her mother's house is loud with family dinners and siblings that you grow to adore as much as she does. Her father's house is where you get to veg on the couch silently, but together. These are parents who are refreshingly understanding and supportive of their kids' passion. I loved this, it completed the package.
I do think this novel will impact some more profoundly than others, likely dependent on your own high school experience and identity. No matter, it's beautifully written with so much heart - a book well worth your time!
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for review.
For more of my reviews, visit my blog at Xpresso Reads