I have only the flimsiest of reasons for requesting This Song Will Save Your Life from NetGalley. The title and the cover reminded me of Audrey, Wait! By Robin Benway, which I loved. I’m sure you see the resemblance. (Yeah, I dunno, me either.) So I requested it, and I expected it to be something like 13 Reasons Why, only without the dead girl. As it turns out, it wasn’t much like that at all, beyond being a young adult novel about suicide and bullying. Sounds lovely, no? It was terrific. If you stopped me now and asked for my top five books so far this year, this book would be on the list.
Elise is a 16 year old girl starting a new school year. She gets picked on for everything. She’s worked all summer to learn how to be popular, to learn the “right” things to say and do, and despite feeling like she’s made a change, the other kids (big surprise) still pick on her. Turns out, they didn’t change. So Elise goes home on the first day of school, and tries to kill herself (not a spoiler, this is very early on.) Things really don’t get any better for Elise after that- now she’s just the weirdo who tried to kill herself. The bullying continues, both in person and via social media, and Elise feels hopeless and hates herself and everyone else. As a form of escape, she starts to sneak out of her house at night and take long walks through town, listening to music and wandering aimlessly. One of those nights, she stumbles across Start- an underground dance club- where no one knows who she is. She falls in love with the scene, and with the music, and when she gets a chance to learn to DJ she leaps at it. DJing, as it turns out, is something she is very good at. Elise meets new friends, none of whom know her past and all of whom seem to like her. Things are turning around until, inevitably, her day life and her night life collide.
Elise is a contradiction. She’s so aware of herself, in so many ways, and yet also completely naïve about the very same subjects. For example, she’s aware of why people dislike her- she dresses oddly, she’s precocious, she knows who she is- but she’s still surprised when they criticize one of those things. She’s smart and a bit weird without being a perfect student or a stereotype of the person everyone picks on. She desperately wants friends, but when she finally gets them, she doesn’t know how to interact with them since she’s too nervous about being betrayed. She can see exactly what mistakes she made to become everyone’s target, but she can’t prevent herself from making more. Her new friends at Start don’t know any of this. They just see a normal girl without a freaky past, one is really good at reading a crowd and getting a reaction. Elise is swept away by the excitement of it while the reader waits for the other shoe to fall. I admit, this book was making me incredibly nervous near the middle. I was so sure things were going to implode in a very bad way. Instead though, the author pulls it through to a lovely satisfying ending. Not everything works out perfectly, all the ends aren’t tied in a pretty bow, but you believe that Elise is finally going to be someone who is not a target, that things really are getting better. Her problems aren't solved, but she finally has something good in her life to keep it from being so bleak.