Friday, May 16, 2014

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Elise Dembowski has always been an outsider.  She makes one final attempt to change herself and make friends, and when that fails she thinks she's ready to give up for good.  Then Elise comes across and underground party and finds her passion - DJing.  With it come real friends and crushes, but Elise still hasn't made her night life and the rest of her life come together.

Elise is an odd duck.  The kind of kid who I see in high school sometimes and I just want to tell them to hang on until they can go to college.  That it's going to get so much better for them.  She's not interested in things most other kids her age are interested in.  She doesn't like the sorts of clothes they wear so she doesn't dress like most kids.  Without common interests, Elise is alone most of the time.  She doesn't really know how to interact with people her own age.  Elise gets teased and bullied constantly.  She's always alone.  School is a torment for her.

The book kind of starts in the middle of the story.  Elise is reflecting back on her attempt to reinvent herself the summer between freshman and sophomore year.  She buys new clothes.  She studies pop culture and TV even though she doesn't care about any of it.  And on the first day of school she realizes it's never going to work.  She's always just going to be herself.  Elise decides she's going to kill herself.  But after cutting herself she realizes she doesn't actually want to die, but just wants to be noticed and cared about.

This attempt comes back to haunt her later on, when someone starts an online journal under Elise's name.  The journal says things about how everyone hates her (Elise) and she wants to kill herself.  Elise doesn't know who's doing it, but everyone at school thinks it's really her.

While Elise is suffering at school, she's blossoming in the underground club scene.  She accidentally stumbles upon the party during one of her evening walks and, amazingly to her, makes friends with two girls, who introduce her to the DJ Char, who takes her under his wing.  Elise feels like a different person there.  A confident person with friends who is talented and has something to give.  As DJing becomes more important to her, Elise finds it hard to keep on getting up to go to school each day.  And DJing can't magically make all her problems go away.

Elise continues to struggle with her feelings of worthlessness.  She starts hooking up with Char, even though she knows he fools around with lots of other girls.  When Elise is offered her own DJing gig, rather than be happy for her, Char is jealous and wants her to turn it down.  Elise doesn't know what to do.  She's gone so long believing that she'll never be good enough, never be what anyone wants.  I wanted to grab Elise and shake her and say, "Don't listen to that stupid boy!  You're going to be awesome!  He's just jealous of you!  Also you should probably stop hooking up with him!"

Elise's two worlds collide when her parents see a journal entry on the fake Elise's site that says she's going to kill herself.  Her parents, of course, freak out and set out to find her.  With everything out in the open, real change can finally be made.

The book doesn't end with everything being fixed and better.  But we are left with the feeling that Elise is going to be OK.  She's found a place for herself, and she's found a way to bring that person she is at night into the rest of her life.

It's a great story and also deals with those tricky themes of bullying and identity that can so easily become heavy handed and preachy.  It was an finding yourself with an edge, realistically portrayed.  I found Elise's voice to very true and on point.  Highly recommended.

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