Book Review: This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life
By: Leila Sales
Read By: Rebecca Lowman
Published By: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: September 17th, 2013
Page Count: 288
Source: Library Audiobook

Audience/Genre: YA Fiction

Buy it at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

I really like Elise Dembowski, and I also loathe Elise Dembowski (aka "Glendale's Hottest DJ"). Lelia Sales has created a complex character who takes on so many of the stereotypical teenage angst issues in such a wry and matter-of-fact way that it was super difficult not to love her. And the moments when I didn't love Elise, I suspect after thinking about and reflecting on the book for a few days, were because she was just waaaay too much like I was as a young woman. Hindsight and all that...

Elise wants to reinvent herself, and as any studious young person would, she spends the entire summer before her sophomore year reading magazines and watching as much TV as possible (taking notes and making flashcards to keep all the reality TV stars straight) so she can hold conversations with her peers at lunch. She's sure to wow them with her carefully created clothing, hair, glasses, and shoes and naturally a standing lunch invite will follow. So when her hard work doesn't immediately pay off, and she finds herself alone at lunch (again), she decides to go home and kill herself.

Side note; This is NOT a book about teen suicide, that plays a rather small role in the novel. Not being a fan of books with that topic, I almost put this one down, but I was happy I didn't.

While creating the perfect suicide playlist, she runs out of time and decides to instead experiment with cutting, which ends with her calling a classmate in the school directory for attention. Fast-forward to the end of the school year, and Elise finds herself wandering alone at night to clear her head. It's during one her her late night walks that she stumbles upon Start, an underground dance party and a place where her love of music doesn't make her weird, but super cool. She befriends a few regulars, including a smarmy DJ, and her new life away from "Elise Dembowski, high school student" starts to take shape

Sales PERFECTLY captures the teenage mind in this book, it's lack of logic and also it's intense use of logic, no matter how flawed. The reasons I loathed Elise were because she reminded me SO MUCH of myself at that age. She believes that she's not good enough, not cool enough, everyone is better at everything, she should step aside and deny her own greatness to please others, etc. I literally found myself shouting at the book sometimes. But in the end, Elise redeems herself and comes full circle in a 100% believable way. This is no Cinderella as a DJ story, but it is realistic and has characters you root for. 

The music was a great addition to this book and warrants a mention. Elise likes many of the same songs that I did back in the day...and Sales provides an extensive list of songs that might have been played each night at Start. If you know a teenage (or 40YO) music snob (I use that as a term of endearment), recommend this book to them. ;) 

Summary via Goodreads

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.


  1. "it's lack of logic and also it's intense use of logic, no matter how flawed" that's such a perfect line! I feel like too many authors treat teenagers like logic-less hormone puppets and their characters suffer for it. I can totally relate to what's happening in her head, and this seems like a really poetic narrative unfolding around those emotions. Great review, thanks a ton!


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