Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Release: September 17, 2013
Forget Sarah Dessen; Leila Sales is the real royalty of contemporary YA standalones. Her debut had me laughing out loud on every page, and her sophomore is almost as good, but This Song Will Save Your Life officially catapults her into a position of glory among other realistic fiction regality, a spot she has proven she deserves.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.
Her main qualification is this: no other author can make a novel that revolves primarily around self-discovery as exciting and engaging as Sales can. Her books always have some kind of hook that makes them true to life, but in a supercharged, never boring way, and in this case, DJing adds this vital boost to the plot.
A tale that could have been repetitive had it been handled differently, Elise's story never has a dull moment as it switches between the oppressive place that is high school and the nightclub that brings her to life, and the contrast between the dim dirtiness and the pulsating crowd, ostracization and acceptance, and numbness and vitality is fascinating. Readers can easily visualize this place where the protagonist finds a surrogate home, and I loved being transported into a new world I have never experienced in real life. Sales accomplishes this perfect painting of scenery by comparing it to the outside world, making it seem increasingly enticing every time Elsie visits, and in doing so, brings the drama that happens there to life. Readers will be sucked into the relationships-the rocking as well as the rocky-that unfold there, becoming invested in what becomes of each of its frequenters and slipping soundlessly into their fights, friendships, romances, and more.
The best part of this setting, though, is the way it allows the protagonist's development to build as she grows more and more animated and connected through music. Songs serve as not only the perfect bridge for Elise's character development, but the ideal way to create an interesting setup that screams, "Here is an even that sparked my coming of age story" rather than simply, "Here is my coming of age story." This, even more than the nightclub's vibrant imagery and hooking events, is what allows the self-actualization idea to come across in such an easy way; Elsie's confidence builds naturally with her DJing expertise, which provides This Song Will Save Your Life with a fitting quirk its main character can use to grow.
And throughout everything, Sales creates a perfect voice in which the story is told: often hilarious, sensitive when needed, and always realistic. This Song Will Save Your Life is just as comical as the author's previous books, but it does deal with darker topics relating to depression and family issues that will strike a chord-figuratively, of course-with many readers, adding another reason why this book is so relatable. The smiles resulting from the witty jokes and the emotions radiating from all Elise's insecurities provide the final grab that refuses to let readers turn away, and this signature writing style never fails to carry whatever creative ideas it supports.
At its heart, this is a book about a wandering teen learning to rock next to the dance floor as well as in life. Realistic enough to be recognizable and different enough to be alluring, This Song Will Save Your Life not only takes its protagonist through this perfectly paced metamorphosis, but leaves readers feeling as if they have just experienced the same thing. I cannot recommend this author (this novel in particular) enough to anyone looking for a true-to-life story that will cradle his or her attention, and I will continue demand everyone read this rollicking and bittersweet book.