"'I see you as Elise, DJ extraordinaire," she said, settling a big pair of sunglasses on her nose. "So buy the rhinestone pumps."This Song Will Save Your Life was one of those cases where I had no idea what to expect (DJing + suicide? *scratches head*) but was completely—and I do mean completely, utterly—taken by surprise, in the best way possible of course. I was on author lines during BEA with my head bent over, shoulders hunched in an unmistakable picture of anti-social behavior, my body language screaming “I don’t wish to be disturbed!” because I was unreservedly, deeply engrossed. It’s the way Leila Sales pulls you in, so honest and unpretentious, nudging you into the trap of Elise’s bleak, hopeless state, until you’re caught firmly and her feelings of loneliness and despair consume you until you can’t see or feel anything but her, and her deep desire for someone to matter, to have friends, to be accepted, to feel right in the world when everyone’s made her feel wrong, out of place.
You think it's so easy to change yourself.
You think it's so easy, but it's not.
What do you think it takes to reinvent yourself as an all-new person, a person who makes sense, who belongs? Do you change your clothes, your hair, your face? Go on, then. Do it. Pierce your ears, trim your bangs, buy a new purse. They will see past that, see you, the girl who is still too scared, still too smart for her own good, still a beat behind, still--always, wrong. Change all you want; you can't change that.
Because I tried.
God, I get completely worked up emotionally. I feel tears pushing just thinking about her at the beginning of this book. That feeling of being left out, never having anyone, constantly being overlooked is no stranger to me, and while I do feel like this book resonates deeper, stronger if you’ve ever been in her shoes (some of her thoughts were like echoes from my high school self, which isn't that distant), I don’t think that’s the only way to feel this story. Something about Elise’s heartbreaking disappointment over the life she’s leading, and the people she doesn’t have in it, speaks more to me than many of the other tragic emotional plights I’ve read.
Elise has always been around music, but she’s never experienced it the way she does whilst on her nighttime ventures to an out-of-the-way dance club, called by its mystery and its promise. It’s a whole other world, surreal and vibrant, and getting caught up with the music, getting to know the DJ behind the booth and experiencing firsthand what it takes to create an exclusive world built upon layers of music brings something to life in her. Her first attempt puts you in a place where you’re looking down at all those bodies moving ecstatically to the beats working through what Elise has made for them and you’re happy, proud even. It gives her purpose, motivation, friends, everything she’s ever wanted and that’s the most beautiful thing about this book overall. Because it’s in that moment when the essence of the title becomes stunningly clear, washes over you, until you’re completely swamped with emotion on Elise’s behalf.
I remember when I went up to get this one signed, at Mandee’s urging (thank you!), the publicist, after I’d explained I’d never read anything from Leila but was enamored with her after her part in the panels at Teen Author Carnival, said it’s like Leila Sales in a book. And the woman is hilarious but I remember thinking ‘who is she really?’ After This Song, I get it. With Elise’s wry, self-deprecating narration, and her story that chronicles her heart-breaking, restorative journey to a self that's never been more true, a life she can lead that she can finally accept, I understand her publicist entirely.
This Song Will Save Your Life is an unassuming gem that I’m terrified people will overlook, a contemporary book with an odd synopsis that leaves you with only the tiniest hint of what is really undertaken in this book. It’s real and powerful, filled with characters I adore, and a resounding note of faith, hope, and love experienced most deeply by the end. This is a story I never want to let go of.
Hardcover / 288 pgs / Sept 17th 2013 / FSG Macmillan / Goodreads / $17.99
I picked this one up at Leila's signing during Book Expo America.