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.
Tell Me More: When I was eight years old, I received my first Discman. Raised on Columbia Records catalogues, Dr. Hook, and Queen, I quickly became obsessed with music and I never looked back. So much of who I am as a person has been formed by the music I listen to, and Leila Sales not only captured that truth, but she also brought me back to some of the worst years of my life, when music was the only thing that could carry me through. But this time, I had a hand to hold, and a character who understood all too well how crazy scary being yourself could be. This Song Will Save Your Life was beautiful and hard and honest in all the best ways, and I am forever grateful that Leila Sales wrote this story.
I chose to read this book on a Sunday morning, stretched out on the balcony and basking in the July sunshine. I’m glad I did, because the synopsis only hinted at the depths of this novel and the emotions it would call up in me, and only the brightness of that summer day kept me from sinking back into a really bad headspace. Elise was me in 7th grade, desperate to fit in, and yet so other, so not part of the “normal” tween crowd that any attempt to change the status quo was laughable. And it never makes sense–sometimes it still doesn’t, even years later–how some kids just get picked to be the punching bag, the entertainment, the never-quite-good-enough that assures the rest of the class that they’re better. Elise’s confusion and plain inability to understand what had happened to make her that person were two things I could identify with, and one of the last moments I remember before I fell into this book completely was spent wondering how Sales had captured my middle school experience so accurately. Elise’s rock bottom felt all too real–Sales’ writing style pinpointed the rawness of her emotions so well that I had to pause more than once to remove myself from the situation.
The transition from Elise, bottom step of the social ladder, to Elise, rock star DJ, is fascinating, and it is so easy to cheer for her as she begins to try again with Pippa and Vicky. A lesson most teens never realize they learn during adolescence is how important it is to keep trying, even when things look like they’re never going to get any better. Society paints millennials as parasites, but it ignores how so many 20-somethings are still working to stabilize their lives with the added burden of student loans, horrifying social issues, and an unwelcoming job market. So much of the inner strength that’s required to do that is built up when you’re a teen, when it’s hard to know who and what to trust. Elise’s determination to be happy and to find a place to belong carried her through some tough moments, and it affirmed that she was capable of more.
In a world where teenage girls are ridiculed for their taste in music, the way they dress, and even the way they talk, Elise is a symbol of how easily we can misunderstand and ignore signs of loneliness and frustration. It’s easy to forget that teenage girls dance a terrifying line between loving and hating themselves every day of their lives because of what society tells them, and if this book does anything, it reminds those girls that there is always something to love about yourself. The end of your life comes when you give up, when you stop trying. Elise might trip and stumble, but she keeps going. You don’t have to agree with the some of the choices she makes, but I’ll be damned if you won’t understand the reasons she makes them.
The Final Say: Leila Sales proves that she is a contemporary author to reckon with in this emotional and commanding story of a girl on the brink of greatness. There is no doubt that readers the world over will find themselves in Elise and her journey.
Leila Sales grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 2006. Now she lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in the mostly glamorous world of children’s book publishing. Leila spends most of her time thinking about sleeping, kittens, dance parties, and stories that she wants to write.