Genres: YA Contemporary
Source: print ARC from the publisher
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.
Just by looking at that jacket copy, it’s hard not to see a little of oneself in Elise. We’ve all struggled with being the butt of the joke, the outsider, the unpopular one, or the target of reasonless bullying. Thanks to that and plenty of glowing reviews, I expected This Song Will Save Your Life to make me ache in about a million different ways, all of them good. It did toward the end, but the journey to the last fifty pages or so took far too long for a book just 288 pages long.
The first two chapters have Elise telling us her story in this bafflingly blasé voice. “Yeah, I’ve been bullied endlessly for years and one day, I snapped and decided to attempt suicide. The weather is lovely outside.” That’s not an actual quote, but the tone of it is pretty much exactly the same. Most of the book is like this, but there are small moments of stellar, emotional writing throughout, usually to do with DJing and her experience with it. Somehow, most of these only come in the last fifty pages. Why couldn’t they be more evenly placed throughout the book? Better yet, why couldn’t the entire book have been that great?
Elise is only sympathetic as a bullying victim and as plenty of fellow victims will, they’ll know exactly what kind of pain she’s in. It’s a bit of a cheap way to gain that sympathy for someone who is otherwise thoroughly characterized as a terrible person. She’s a snob that thinks herself better than the two people who aren’t bullying her and actually trying to be nice to her–and in all honestly, she thinks herself better than everyone else too. This doesn’t change much Sally and Chava even know Elise thinks she’s better than them, but they take her crap anyway for a reason that doesn’t end up ringing true after everything she’s done.
But as I said, things finally get good in the last fifty pages. Elise’s shallowly developed infatuation with fellow DJ Char comes to the perfect resolution, a scene with Elise apologizing to her little sister for trying to “save” her in the worst way possible just about made me cry, and the identity of who is writing a fake journal under Elise’s name and their reasoning for it nearly blinded me with anger on Elise’s behalf.
Most importantly, Elise finds herself and recognizes she has plenty of good friends and a solid family support system. Just as much as she needs to be good for herself, she needs to be good to them. Had the whole book been this good, I’d have a four-star or five-star read on my hands, but it’s not and it is how it is.
This marks my second miss with Sales’ books (the first being her debut novel Mostly Good Girls). Her second novel Past Perfect is one I’ve been looking forward to for ages, but with two thorough misfires, its looking less and less likely I’ll ever get to it due to fear it will be another bad book and crush all my hopes. One of my friends thoroughly connected to and loved Elise’s story, so I can’t discourage people from picking up This Song Will Save Your Life either. My advice is to simply think about it.