This Song Will Save Your Life

Written by: Leila Sales
Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release date: September 17th 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 288
Source: Library
Buy: B&N, Amazon, Book Depository
Add on: 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.


This Song Will Save Your Life is going to be a really important book to a lot of people, because it’s a book with a really important message. If you’ve read it, I’m sure it touched you in some way — maybe it touched your heart because it’s a message you needed to hear 10 years ago, still resonating today. Maybe it’s a message you needed to hear now, that arrived right when you needed it. For me, I think it’s both those things.

Elise Dembowski is a high school sophomore, who wants nothing more than to fit in with the people around her. She’s been in school with the same group of people since kindergarten, and has always been an outsider. She knows what it’s like to be alone and invisible, but also what it’s like to be the center of attention, the butt of people’s cruel jokes. Because of the way she’s isolated from her peers, she’s come to truly believe that there’s something wrong with her, with the way she is, with her likes and dislikes and interests and clothes and bearing. She thinks she needs to change, to be normal, and then everyone will accept her.

Tell me you’ve never had that feeling before. *crickets* Yeah I didn’t think so.

I don’t belong here. I don’t know how I got here, and I don’t know how long I can stay before everyone else realizes that I am an impostor. I am a fraud.

Teen-Me would have really benefited from This Song Will Save Your Life, I think. But Present-Me also needed the reminder this book drove home. This Song is a story about finding yourself; but more importantly, it’s about accepting yourself, and being okay with — or rather, owning — being who you are. Knowing you have strengths that are worthwhile, and important. It’s a beautiful reminder — for anyone who struggles or has struggled with self-doubt, loneliness, or low self-esteem — that you are worth it.

Whether it’s a constant battle for you, or something you struggle with off and on, or something that only occasionally hits you if you’re out of your element — we’ve all been there at some point. For those of us who struggle with it more constantly, this book is one that says, “You may feel alone in your struggle, but you’re not. You may think you’re not worth it, but you are. You may think your life isn’t going to get better, but it will.”

Elise finally begins to find her way by accident one night, when she stumbles onto a couple of girls hanging out outside a weekly underground dance club called Start. To her huge surprise, these girls end up befriending her, and Start becomes her sanctuary, filled with other people who share her interests and who want to be her friend, not because of someone she pretends to be, but because of who she is. They see her value and her talent and want to help her become the person she wants to be, which is what sets her on the right course.

But even in the course of becoming accepted into this new group of friends, she still struggles with believing that she’s worthy of being there, that someone would truly care enough to want to spend time with her, when she’s seen plenty of prior evidence to the contrary.

So he had invited me here, I reminded myself. But still. That didn’t mean he actually wanted me here.

One of her new friends is a guy called Char, the DJ at Start. Elise’s passion is music, and after she meets Char, she’s immediately interested in DJing. With his help, she discovers that she has a natural talent for it.

Now, I don’t want to give anything away, but I just have to make this one point. Most of the contemporaries I’ve read have a romantic element to them — once the main character finds a guy who likes her and accepts her, that’s a main reason why she ends up pulling her life back together. In This Song, there is a bit of a love-story between Elise and Char. But don’t go into this book expecting it to be about a love-story. It is absolutely not. And I think that’s incredibly important.

Having a white knight in shining armor swoop into the main character’s life, sweep her off her feet, and make her realize that she’s not alone, that she’s worth something – that’s great. I love those stories. But I think it’s also really important to realize that finding “someone special” is not the be-all and end-all of one’s journey to self-acceptance. I think it’s important that people also realize that they can come to that conclusion on their own, and not depend on one person to help them get there. This Song emphasizes Elise’s strength as an individual, to find her way and make her own mistakes and ultimately accept herself, independent from her personal relationships.


One quick note: You might have noticed, this book deals a lot with music. ;) That sometimes worries me in books, because if I’m not familiar with the songs being referenced — especially when they’re a hugely influential part of the book — I have trouble connecting based on lack of knowledge. However, I am incredibly happy to say that, in this case, my lack of knowledge about Elise’s favorite music didn’t affect me in the slightest. Music just happens to be what Elise is passionate about, but I found the way it was treated, including all the DJing and musical jargon going on, to be just part of the general story, rather than a specialized thing you have to understand in order to follow the book. I may not be familiar with the bands Elise loves, or know what the heck she was learning to do with the turntables when she was learning how to DJ, but it’s so applicable to any other creative passion and application of that passion, I could relate easily.


In conclusion…

I think it’s obvious that I really loved this book. Anyone who feels like the outsider, who’s been alone, who’s felt “less than” everyone else, who’s wanted to change because they don’t fit in — I think they’d deeply relate to Elise and her situation. She goes through some really dark times, especially in the first couple chapters, in which she’s pretty sure she wants to kill herself to escape the constant alone-ness of her life. But very quickly, she realizes that’s not what she wants. She wants desperately to be able to be herself, to be accepted for who she is. Her happiness was never going to come from changing herself into someone else, into one of those people who made her feel so isolated in the first place. But rather, she found her happiness by accepting herself, and showing the world who she really was.

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.

13 thoughts on “Review: THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by Leila Sales

  1. Yes! I always love to see another five star review for this book. I’m so glad you enjoyed this one! It’s probably the book that understands exactly what people who have been bullied have gone through or continue to go through. There’s definitely something special about it. :)

    • I love that it resonates with people who’ve dealt with bullying, and also just people who’ve struggled with self-doubt or loneliness. Any teen would be able to relate to Elise and her struggles, honestly. Such an amazing story.

  2. Oh my lord, this book is amazing. I can completely agree with you that it touches people in a meaningful way. I wish this book had been around when I was a teen, I could have done with these messages. Hopefully it can help some people now.
    Love the review (and the book!)

    Fiona @ Eventide Reads

    • Right??? Why weren’t more fantastic YA books like this around when we were younger (or if they were – why weren’t they shoved in our faces??)?? I hope this trend of uplifting and empowering and *REAL* contemporary YA continues, because kids need this so badly.

  3. Yes! I loved this book too. As soon as I read it I knew I was reading something special. It really is a book I think a lot of people will be able to relate to and it’s done in a way that’s not super melodramatic. Which sounds a bit weird, considering the lengths that Elise sometimes goes, but it just didn’t read like a typical bullying book. It really resonated with me and I so, so wish this book had been around when I was in high schoo.

    • Yes!!! What you said about the non-melodramatic tone is so true. Elise’s voice is REAL, and I think that’s why the message resonated so loudly for me. It wasn’t overblown, but totally down to earth and true.

  4. Sheesh, am I the only who hasn’t read this book yet?!
    And I kinda glad to hear that self-acceptance takes priority over romance in this book because we have enough white knight and damsels in distress contemporaries.
    This Song Will Save Your Life sounds like an amazing read and I will definitely be pushing this one up the TBR pile-Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Nikki!

    Happy Reading!

    • “we have enough white knight and damsels in distress contemporaries”

      Just based on that opinion, you definitely need to read This Song. Elise’s character growth in regards to that relationship is just… so so so good. I was incredibly pleasantly surprised by the way that whole arc played out, and I think you would be too.

      Thanks for stopping by! :)

  5. I’m a music fan, but I doubt I’ll be familiar with all the references in this either. I’m glad it’s still easy to follow along despite that. And yay for romance that doesn’t engulf the plot! I do enjoy a little bit of a romantic element in my books, but I do believe that it isn’t always necessary. Though if an author manages to get the balance right, and only include what works for the rest of the story, that’s impressive. I’m looking forward to picking this up! I’ve been sitting on my copy for far too long now. Great review. :)

    • You NEEEED to read this ASAP if you like books that deal with romance – only as much as is necessary to the emotional arc of the main character. I have to be vague because spoilers, but… the romance in This Song is dealt with in a way that is REALLY rare in YA today (at least, in what I’ve read). Really, really worth a read.

      Thanks for stopping by, Sam!

  6. The relationship between Char and Elise, and it’s difference to so many other YA books (as you noted), is what stood out to most about this book. It certainly wasn’t a “pretty” relationship, but it’s probably much closer to what real-life girls experience. I loved that Elise was “saved” by a song, and not some unrealistic, swoony boy.

    Stephanie @ Inspiring Insomnia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *