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Review: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

song lifeMaking 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 DJ-ing.

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.

Everyone has that moment in high school where they think that they don’t fit in. It doesn’t matter if you are the popular leader of a clique, or you are the one in black clothes and deep eyeliner hiding in the corners. Everyone has that insecurity inside of them that whispers, “you’re not like everyone else, and everyone knows”. For Elise, she has had that voice in her head her whole life, despite numerous disastrous attempts to banish it forever. Elise is, for want of a better description, the weird kid. I know her well, because I was that weird kid too. Smart, and probably a little less than tolerant of kids who weren’t as smart as me, eager to do well in school but also quietly wanting friends and unsure of how to join in. Don’t get me wrong – I liked my friends (most of whom would likely be  considered the weird kids), and I was friendly with a lot of different groups of people in school, but I never really felt like I belonged to any particular group. Elise spoke to me very clearly and at times it was hard to take.

Reading this book actually made my heart ache at times. There was so much loneliness on some of the pages that I wanted to reach into the book and give Elise a hug, and to reassure her that she wasn’t a freak. Without giving away any spoilers, that final moment where she finally admits her emotions in relation to her little sister’s cardboard poetry project was horrifying and devastating … and completely identifiable. Her joy at finding her niche, that place where she could take her hobbies and ambitions and translate them into something that resonated with others was so wonderful to read, because it was a signal to Elise that she was not as lost as she had originally thought.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

~ Apple Ad Campaign

Having said all this, I do think that Elise was also her own worst enemy at times. She was so obviously uncomfortable in being herself that she exuded that to others. She had not yet found a way to take her “thing” – music – and make it something positive as a means for others to identify her – this is why, when she stumbles on the underground dance party, she so quickly identified with the whole vibe of the place. Some people might take issue with the idea of a high school student wandering alone at night, but the reality is that kids do that. As someone who routinely snuck out of the house as a teen, you feel you are invincible, and you don’t consider the very scary consequences. I also think that her relationship with her parents, while a little off the ‘regular’ path, was also reasonable sane. Their concern for her was genuine, and their anger with her for putting herself in jeopardy was logical and real.

I liked that her relationships with Vicky, Pippa and Char were bumpy and realistic, and that they weren’t Insta-Friends just because she magically appeared at the warehouse. They were able to like her on her own merit and for her own interests and talents, but they also called Elise on some of her behaviours, and they let her know when she let them down. As superficial as their relationship may have seemed as first, it was the healthiest friendship Elise seemed to have had in her young life, and it was good to see her having real conversations (and kudos for passing the Bechdel Test!). Romantically,  Chas was ‘that guy’ – the one that you fall head over heels for, unaware that he is just not the one for you in the long run. I mentally assigned so many of the guys I knew in late high school and university as Chas in my mind – not bad guys, but still a little lost and trying to figure who they were through multiple relationships.

Overall, this was an uncomfortable book for me to read, simply because it pushed so many of my own buttons, and I think it will be a great read for other kids who feel the same way. This is a  story about finding out what makes you “you”, and translating that into something that others can understand. It’s a book about feeling alone despite being surrounded by others, and about growing up and accepting not only yourself but others for who they are. Being a teenager, especially today, is so difficult, and it’s hard to define yourself and to come to terms with the fact that who you are is absolutely okay, despite what others might say.

“Sometimes people think they know you. They know a few facts about you, and they piece you together in a way that makes sense to them. And if you don’t know yourself very well, you might even believe that they are right. But the truth is, that isn’t you. That isn’t you at all.” 

This Song Will Save Your Life is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and was provided by NetGalley and Macmillan’s Children’s publishing in exchange for an honest review. It may be purchased from Indigo and your friendly indie bookstore via Raincoast . ISBN: 9780374351380, 288 pages. 

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