Friday, September 20, 2013

(Review) This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Title: This Song Will Save Your Life
Author: Leila Sales
Published: September 17, 2013 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Rating: Stay Up 'til 2 AM
Format: Digital galley provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Summary: 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.
There was pretty much no way I wasn't going to read this book. It has one of my favorite covers of the year by far! Plus, it is about music but not a musician (in the strictest sense of the word), and I am all about that. No, seriously. I can sing, but I can't play an instrument to save my life. I've attempted to play guitar before. It did not end well. Regardless, I went into This Song Will Save Your Life excited but with no real expectations, having heard nothing about it and no previous experience with the author. From the synopsis, I thought it would be a Welcome, Caller, This Is Chloe type book where all the misfits get together and form friendships and eat burritos. I didn't wind up getting that, but what I did get was, in my opinion, even better.

I was in almost physical pain for the first segment of the book. When I think social misfits, I usually think quirky and maybe a little odd and a little sad, but there are always other misfits to hang out with. But Elise wasn't simply a misfit; she was an outcast. She wanted people to like her. It wasn't that she wanted to be the head cheerleader and date the quarterback. She just wanted to fit in and have friends, and she tried so hard to make it come true. But somehow, none of her efforts made it better, and many only succeeded in further alienation. The worst thing was, the way people treated her made me sick, but I could completely see it happening. Because people are just that cruel sometimes.
I had always thought that if I just did something extraordinary enough, then people would like me. But that wasn’t true. You will drive away everyone by being extraordinary.
I did not anticipate the story being so dark to start out with, but it was. It was difficult to read, but ultimately worth pushing through for sure. Without it, I don't think the rest of the story would have been quite as powerful. I think it may have been even more powerful for me than some, because I could relate to Elise in a lot of ways, from love of music to striving to be extraordinary, though thankfully, my circumstances never mirrored hers.

At the beginning of the story, Elise didn't have people, but the one thing she did have was music (well, that, and a dark sense of humor that will make you laugh - or at least want to laugh - even at inappropriate times). After stumbling upon the underground warehouse party scene, Elise's love of music, knowledge of it, and aptitude with it enabled her to become an awesome DJ, which opened up a world she never thought possible.

One thing I definitely loved about this book was the unique cast of characters. Pippa, Vicky, and Char were unlike any characters I had read about before. They weren't the perfect friends. They messed up. They were real. And even though I didn't like each of them 100% of the time - and really, Vicky was the only one who even came close - I appreciated that aspect.

But really, this book wasn't about the side characters at all. It wasn't a romance. It wasn't the story of how a bunch of friends grew together and started singing "Kumbaya." It was the story of Elise, of music, of being comfortable with yourself and who you are and not letting other people define you. But at the same time, it wasn't preachy, and it didn't bash you over the head with endless clichés. It was simply a fantastic story with a great message. I was also ridiculously glued to my seat, wondering what would happen next, despite the fact that it was very character- rather than action-driven. And even though I did find a romance to root for - because hello, my name is Sharon, and I'm a romanceaholic - that was not what was pulling me in.

Another thing worth mention is that This Song Will Save Your Life was immensely quotable. It also had a wonderful last line that brought the book around full circle, and it is one of my favorite things ever when authors manage to do that. I tip my hat to Ms. Sales. And not only for this, but for writing such a great book overall. For some reason, I was under the impression that this was a debut, but now that I know it is not, I will be investigating Ms. Sales' backlist posthaste.

Also, for the last point, I have a FUN FACT (which will probably make no sense to you unless you've read the book, but hey, random facts are fun!): On the Greatest Hits album by Blur, the track after "Girls and Boys" (you know, the "girls who are boys who like boys" and so on track that Char played every night) is called "Charmless Man." Something I found to be both interesting and apt.
You think it’s so easy to change yourself. You think it’s so easy, but it’s not.

“I know the Smiths,” I snapped, because lord knows you can launch any kind of criticism at me, lord knows I’ve heard it all before, but don’t you dare doubt my musical knowledge.

There are some people who want to win at whatever they do, even if the things they do are not the sort of things one wins at. I am one of those people.

Some 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.
*All quotes from an advanced review copy and may differ from the finished version.

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