Sunday 3 September 2017

#CBR9 Book 74: "This Song Will Save Your Life" by Leila Sales

Page count: 288 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Elise Dembowski has always been painfully uncool at school, and spends an entire summer pretty much studying up on how to become popular, spending much of her savings in the process on a new wardrobe, without any success at all. Things may in fact have gotten even worse for her. In a moment of despair, she cuts herself pretty deeply, and while bleeding, calls a school mate, who naturally freaks out and has paramedics sent to Elise's house. After this event, Elise's divorced parents are extremely protective and worried about her, while Elise is pretty much seen as an even bigger freak at school.

Her life starts changing for the better, when one night, wandering aimlessly near her mother's house, she comes across an underground dance club, where she is taken under the wing of some of the regulars, and seems to hit it off with 'Charm', the DJ (His full DJ name is DJ This Charming Man - I honestly can't be bothered to look up what his given name was, it is eventually revealed). The slightly older girls who come there to dance seem to accept her for exactly who she is and 'Charm' is all too happy showing her some of the technical aspects of DJ-ing. On the dance floor, she is able to let go and finds a lot of release. She manages to convince her musician father to get her some mixing equipment and starts teaching herself to DJ, with helpful assistance from 'Charm'. When she actually gets to try it out herself at the club, she discovers her true passion.

To be able to get to the underground club, she needs to spend more time with her mother and her new family, causing tension and friction with her dad, who's losing out on time with his daughter. She keeps having to lie to her parents, which isn't easy for her. To add to her complications, someone at her high school has started an online journal, pretending to be Elise, writing exaggerated posts about how lonely, angry and depressed she is, apparently counting down towards her eventual suicide. While Elise doesn't exactly have a lot of friends, she does have people who care about her, and this blog is making people concerned about her - especially in light of her cutting incident a few months back.

While my escape from the hardships of life has always been books, I know enough people who find solace in music that there was a lot in this book that rang true to me. While Elise is setting off on her project to become more popular, one of the things she simply cannot do is get into the modern disposable pop that most of her peers seem to like. To her, the music of the 1980s and 90s is the only thing that properly counts, music she's learned to love growing up with a musician father. Her extensive knowledge is one of the things that initially impresses 'Charm' and makes him think she might be interested in DJ-ing.

The first half of the book, with Elise's extreme loneliness and despair is quite hard to read. No amount of patient encouragement from her well-meaning parents about being yourself and staying strong helps when everyone your own age seems to think you're a pathetic loser. It's not like Elise is actually being bullied, she's simply entirely over-looked and ignored, which is an insidious type of bullying in itself. When all the people you see at school every day don't seem to care whether you're there or not, it can be easy to convince yourself that you don't matter and that it may be easier if you just died.

After her somewhat botched self-harm attempt, Elise is forced to get counselling and she does actually find a couple of sort of friends, although it takes her a long time to appreciate them, as they may be even more outcast and oddball than she is. With her newfound passion for DJ-ing and going to the dance club, she finds something to truly care about and no longer really cares what her high school peers think of her.

I was never popular in school, and really didn't want to be. I was always extremely lucky enough to be an outcast in a little group of equal-minded unpopular girls. We hung out in the school library and talked about fantasy novels, TV shows and were frankly shocked and somewhat uncomfortable if we ever got invited to parties (they were so loud and full of tedious people, and I tended to end up in a corner wishing I was at home reading). I know my husband was not as lucky, which is why he can still visibly shudder whenever he has to enter a school. For people who suffered bullying or being ignored in the way of Elise, this book could be hard to read. I think the topic is dealt with in a good way, though, and Elise reads like a very believable teenager, even when she makes some rather poor choices over the course of the book.

Judging a book by its cover: This cover is pretty decent for a young adult novel. There's a slightly geeky looking girl wearing big headphones, which seems appropriate based on Elise's DJ passion. Since the girl's in profile, you don't get that much of an impression of her, and can project your own ideas as to who she is. The red letters in the title, spelling out LOVE is also a nice touch.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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