This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Published: 10 October 2013 (Macmillan Children's Books)
Format: Paperback (proof)
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Source: Received free proof copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Macmillan!
Plot Summary (from Goodreads):
All her life, Elise Dembowski has been an outsider. Starting a new school, she dreams of fitting in at last – but when her best attempts at popularity fail, she almost gives up. Then she stumbles upon a secret warehouse party. There, at night, Elise can be a different person, making real friends, falling in love for the first time, and finding her true passion – DJ’ing.
But when her real and secret lives collide, she has to make a decision once and for all: just who is the real Elise?
An irresistible novel about hope, heartbreak and the power of music to bring people together.
I'd seen This Song Will Save Your Life mentioned on a few blogs over the past few months and it caught my attention because I adore books about music. I was delighted when I was sent a proof copy to review. The book follows Elise who is struggling socially at school. Wandering the street late at night leads her to an underground DJ night where she meets DJ Char and party-goers Vicky and Pippa. Soon she is swept into their world and discovers her new passion; DJ'ing.
The beginning of the book sees Elise in a quite a dark place. She's working hard on changing her image so she'll fit in at school and when all her attempts fail, she ends up feeling suicidal and harming herself. I have huge respect for the author for taking on these subjects and managing to get inside Elise's head and portray her worries so well. The book also deals with issues like cyber bullying and references eating disorders and binge drinking. I think it's important that books don't shy away from these things and although some scenes may be dark, I was really pleased with how they were addressed. This Song Will Save Your Life managed to balance everything really well so that you feel the emotion but there's enough uplifting moments to keep you entertained as well as moved.
I think the real problem Elise has is loneliness, and the book addresses how having friends during your high school days is in now way a given. I could relate to a few of the scenarios she finds herself in. There's one part of the book where she describes all the ways she copes with lunchtime because she can't go to the cafeteria, and it brought back memories of a time when I used to wander round school pretending to look for someone because I didn't actually have anyone to hang around with! I think loneliness can be one of the hardest things to deal with, especially at that age, and so I thought it was a great avenue to explore.
I really liked Elise as a main character. She's incredibly smart (something she's bullied because of) but she also has a real determination. Every hobby she takes up she puts her heart and soul into to try and be the best which was a trait I really liked about her. The book is written in first person and I adored her voice. She comes across as slightly older than her sixteen years but that's in no way a bad thing! I think she's become more mature by having to deal with the extreme immaturity of her peers. In a way I could relate to that as well. I always felt a bit older than those around me during my teens. Basically a lot of this book was relatable!
The story charts Elise's journey as she enters the world of DJ'ing.When I went into this book I probably had quite a close-minded view of the scene, so it was really refreshing to have my eyes opened to this world. The focus really is on the music and everybody getting lost in those songs. My proof copy had a playlist at the back which I'm sure will be available in the finished copy as well and it made me want to go and seek out all of those songs. (You can listen to the playlist via Spotify at this link!) Start, the club night Elise discovers, is an indie disco so there's a brilliant mix of old and new music. I love how the book takes that connection you have with songs and how you relate them to your life and weaves it into the story.
There was a great ensemble of characters in TSWSYL. I really liked Vicky and Pippa and what they brought to the story. Vicky is really funny and brings out a bit of confidence in Elise. I thought it was good that the darker side of the party lifestyle was reflected in Pippa's struggles as well. I liked the way Elise looks upon her half-sister Alex as a younger version of herself and how she reflects on her own experiences by comparing them to Alex's.
There is an underlying romantic storyline throughout the book but it's not overplayed. I liked that the focus wasn't so much on that particular love story, because the book is really all about Elise learning to like herself which is far more important! And I was really impressed that Elise herself doesn't get swept away by a guy who she doesn't know that well. She's really level headed about the whole thing which was so refreshing for a YA novel. There was one character who appears nearer the end of the book who I wish was introduced a lot sooner but that's all I'll say! The plot was quite gentle paced and I was maybe expecting a few more twists and turns, but if you love character driven novels then I think if provides enough to sink your teeth into.
I think this book really sums up a lot of what growing up is about and what it feels like during those years when you're so worried about what people think of you and how to fit in. It captured the trials and tribulations of school and friendships brilliantly. It's a book I'd definitely recommend and I can't wait to read more by this author.
What to read next: Past Perfect by Leila Sales
Books like this: DJ Rising by Love Maia, Merch Girl by Rebecca Lewis