A powerful coming-of-age story about an outsider who finds herself when she enters the underground music scene.
"Very much of the moment.” The New York Times
"If you’re a music junkie who also loves YA, read it alongside Len Vlahos’s The Scar Boys or Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park.” Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop
“Sales gets everything right.” MTV.com
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, Leila Sales' This Song Will Save Your Life powerful young adult coming of age novel is an exuberant story about identity, friendship, and the power of music to bring people together.
Praise for This Song Will Save Your Life:
“The emotional resonance of Elise's journey . . . feels very much of the moment.” The New York Times
“Heartbreaking, heartfelt, and eventually heart-lifting, this YA novel is one I won’t soon forget. If you’re a music junkie who also loves YA, read it alongside Len Vlahos’s The Scar Boys or Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park.” Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop
“Pulsates with hope for all the misfits.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Readers will be fascinated and touched by the first-person voice because of what is roiling beneath it. . . .
Teens will connect with [Elise] viscerally.” Booklist, starred review
“Sales gets everything right.” MTV.com
“A wild, witty, funny, thumping good read.” Adele Griffin, two-time National Book Award Finalist
“Edgy and irresistible. If this book were a song, I’d have it on repeat with the volume all the way up.” Sarah Mlynowski, author of Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have)
“A perfect harmony of laugh-out-loud moments, heartbreak, and hope.” Eileen Cook, author of Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood
“A vibrant, powerful dance party of a novel.” Jess Rothenberg, author of The Catastrophic History of You and Me
“A remarkable story about the power of truth, friendship, and musicto transform us, to inspire us, to guide us back to who we are.” Rebecca Serle, author of When You Were Mine
“A sweet, funny story about finding yourself in a crowd, owning your talents, and rocking out on the dance floor of life.” Madeleine George, author of The Difference Between You and Me
A YALSA Best Book for Young Adults
A BuzzFeed Best YA Book of the Year
A CCBC Choice
Also by Leila Sales
Tonight the Streets Are Ours
If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say
Once Was a Time
Mostly Good Girls
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Leila Sales is the author of the novels Mostly Good Girls and Past Perfect. She grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts, and graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of Chicago. Much like the characters in This Song Will Save Your Life, Leila regularly stays up too late and listens to music too loud. When she's not writing, she spends her time thinking about sleeping, kittens, chocolate, and the meaning of life. But mostly chocolate. Leila lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York, and works in children's book publishing.
Read an Excerpt
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 still 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.
I know because I tried.
I was born to be unpopular. There was no other way it could have gone. If there were just one place where it first fell apart, I could dream of going back in time and finding myself and saying, “Listen, ten-year-old Elise, just don’t wear that oversize bright red sweater with the tufts of yarn sticking out of it like pom-poms. I know it is your favorite, because it looks so special, but don’t do it. Don’t be special.”
That’s what I would say to my younger self if I could pinpoint the moment when I went astray. But there was no one moment. I was always astray.
I’ve gone to school with the same kids since kindergarten. And they knew what I was long before I did. I was uncool by fourth grade. How is it even possible to be an uncool fourth grader? Didn’t we all just string together friendship bracelets and daydream about horses and pretend to solve mysteries back then?
But somehow, even in fourth grade, they knew. A new girl moved to our town that year, from Michigan. She and I used to sit outside together during recess while the other girls played don’t-touch-the-ground tag, and we’d talk about the witches’ coven I wanted to form, because I’d read a chapter book about a witches’ coven and my dad had given me some incense that I thought we could use. And then one day on the playground, Lizzie Reardon came over and casually said to my new friend, “Don’t spend too much time with Elise. She might rub off on you.” I was sitting right there. It wasn’t a secret. I was a social liability.
This was fourth grade.
We went to a middle school twice the size of our elementary school, and then we went to a high school twice the size of our middle school. But somehow all those new kids, every one of them, immediately found out about me. Somehow it was that obvious.
When I was little my mom used to schedule my playdates with different girls: Kelly, Raquel, Bernadette. Then in fifth grade, Kelly moved to Delaware, Raquel invited every girl except me to her roller-skating birthday party, and Bernadette sent me a note to let me know that she only hung out with me because her parents said she had to.
I used to hang out with the neighborhood boys, too, when I was a kid. We would build forts in the summer and snowmen in the winter. But around the time we went to middle school, everyone started thinking about dating, which meant that no boy would be caught dead playing in the snow with me anymore lest someone see us and think he had a crush on me. Because obviously, having a crush on Elise Dembowski would be just about the lamest thing an eleven-year-old boy could do.
So by the end of seventh grade, I had no one. Okay, I still had kids who I splashed around with at my mom’s summer lake house. I had my parents’ friends’ children, none of them quite my age, who would sometimes come over for family dinners. But I had no one who was really mine.
Last summer, after freshman year, I decided I couldn’t go on like this anymore. I just could not. It’s not like I wanted to be Lizzie Reardon, captain of the soccer team; or Emily Wallace, part-time teen model; or Brooke Feldstein, who could (and did) hook up with every guy in school. I didn’t need to be the most exciting, beautiful, beloved girl in the world. I just needed not to be me anymore.
You think it’s so easy to change yourself. It would be just like a movie makeover montage, pop music scoring the ugly girl’s transformation from bespectacled duckling to cheerleader swan. You think it’s so easy, but it was a whole summer’s worth of work. It was watching TV constantly, like I was doing homework, taking notes on who all these characters were, making charts of who came from which shows. It was reading gossip magazines and women’s magazines every week, testing myself when I was in the drugstore checkout line: “Who is that woman pictured on the cover of Marie Claire? Which reality TV show was she in?” It was hours of sunshine every day thrown away in favor of hunching over a computer, reading fashion blogs and celebrity blogs and perfume blogs. Did you even know that perfume Web sites exist? What is the point?
The one thing I couldn’t bring myself to do was listen to the music. I tried, for nearly an hour. Then I gave up. It was bad. Not even interesting-bad, like the movies I went to see alone, taking note of which lines in a romantic comedy made the audience laugh. The popular music wasn’t interesting-bad, it was bad-bad. Auto-Tuned vocalists who couldn’t really sing; offensively simplistic instrumentation; grating melodies. Like they thought we were stupid.
I would have given almost anything to change myself, but I wouldn’t give in to that. I hated that music more than I hated having to be myself every day. So I just read about popular musicians online and made flash cards about them until I felt prepared to talk about them. But not to listen to them.
All summer I spent on this. Ten weeks, uninterrupted, except for the time I spent record shopping, and the weekend I spent trying to repair my dad’s computer, and a week that I had to spend at the lake house, where there is no TV or Internet. So, okay, I guess there were some interruptions, but still, you have to believe me when I tell you that the rest of the time I was working really hard on becoming cool.
This should have been a red flag, I realize in retrospect. Working really hard on anything is, by definition, not cool.
The week before school began, I went shopping. Not only did I go shopping, I went to the mall. I was ready. I knew what I was supposed to wear—I had read so many issues of Seventeen by that point, I could rattle off the five best mascara brands without even thinking about it.
So I knew what I was supposed to do, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wasn’t going to spend $150 on a pair of jeans. I wasn’t going to drop $300 on a purse. Come on, Kate Spade, you can’t fool me—it’s a bag. The Sierra Club regularly mails me bags for free. Or, okay, for a $25 donation, but really, that pays for saving forests, not for manufacturing tote bags, which I can’t imagine costs more than a dollar or two.
Both my parents gave me some money for back-to-school clothes, and I had some money saved up, but I resented spending it all on clothes that I didn’t really want. I mean, yes, I wanted to look like a cool person, but I didn’t want to become impoverished in the process.
It’s probably different for girls who have always been cool. Probably when they go shopping, they just have to fill in with a new pair of sneakers here or a new belt there. But I was inventing myself from scratch.
I went through every item in my closet. Which of these could I bring with me into my new life? Not the sweatpants, not the sweatshirts. These jeans, maybe, though the cuffs are wrong. This sweater, maybe, if it had a different neckline.
I thought all my clothes were fine. I liked them, even. They made a statement. The Indian sari that I had tailored into a summer dress. The Ramones shirt I got at a thrift store on Thayer Street, so threadbare that it just had to be an authentic relic of the seventies. The white boots with unicorns printed on them because, even though I’m fifteen, I still think the unicorn would be the world’s greatest animal.
But that is the problem with me. That, right there. Not just that I owned these clothes but that I liked them. That after ten weeks of learning what real people did, I still liked my wrong, wrong clothes.
So I threw my wrong, wrong clothes into garbage bags and tied them shut as tight as I could, as if my unicorn boots might try to stage an escape. I hid the bags in the attic of my mom’s house. Then I went on a shopping spree at Target for every knockoff Seventeen-style garment that I could find. Even then, the total wound up being way more than I had ever spent on clothes in any one of my thrift-store trips. It made me sick to look at the receipt.
But can you put a price on happiness? Really, if that’s what it costs to make you glad to be yourself, then isn’t it worth it?
* * *
On the first day of sophomore year, a Thursday, I sprang out of bed at six a.m. It takes time to make yourself look like a cool person. You can’t just roll out of bed looking cool, or at least I can’t.
So I got up. I washed and conditioned my hair. I shaved my legs, which is something I didn’t know you were supposed to do until an ill-fated all-class pool party at the end of eighth grade. I put on my first-day-of-school outfit, which I had tried on a zillion times already: loafers, fitted jeans, a T-shirt without any writing or patterns on it, a headband. Headbands are back, you know. I read it in a magazine.
“I’m going to school,” I announced to Dad.
He blinked at me over his newspaper. “No breakfast?”
“No breakfast.” My stomach felt tight and jittery; breakfast was the last thing I wanted.
Dad’s gaze drifted to the table, which was piled high with bread rolls, jam, bananas, milk, a pitcher of orange juice, and boxes of cereal that he had obviously set out for me. “You want breakfast like a monkey?”
“Dad, please.” I never have to go through this routine at my mom’s house.
He picked up a banana. “What do monkeys say?”
When I was a kid, I was really into bananas. I still like them, but when I was in elementary school I basically subsisted on them. My dad thought it was hilarious to make me ask for them by scratching at my armpits, jumping up and down, and saying, “Ooh ooh ahh ahh.” You know. Like a monkey. So I thought it was hilarious as well. Anything that was proven to make my dad laugh made me laugh, too.
Sometime during middle school, it occurred to me that the monkey act might be stupid. But my dad never got over it.
“Ooh ooh ahh ahh?” He tossed the banana from hand to hand.
“I have to go, Dad.” I opened the door.
“All right, kiddo. Knock ’em dead.” He put down the banana and stood up to give me a hug. “You look great.”
And I guess that should have been a warning sign, too, because dads do not have the same taste as teenagers in what looks great.
I walked to the corner to wait for the school bus. Usually I’m running to catch the bus just before it pulls away because I’m cherishing every last moment in my house, where it’s safe, before I have to go face the next eight hours.
But that morning, I made it to the bus stop with minutes to spare. I’m never early to anything, so I didn’t know what to do with myself. I watched cars driving past and people coming out of their duplexes in business suits, off to work. I fought the pounding urge to put on my headphones. All I wanted was to listen to music, but wearing headphones makes you look cut off from the rest of the world, antisocial. I wasn’t going to be antisocial this year. I was decidedly pro-social.
A few other kids showed up at the bus stop, too, but none of them spoke to me. It was so early, though. Who wants to have a conversation so early in the morning?
The school bus finally pulled up, and we all got on. I did not sit in the front. The front is where the losers sit, and I was not a loser anymore. Instead I sat in the middle of the bus, which is a relatively cool place to sit, even though I didn’t feel cool about it. I felt panicked and nauseated about it, but I did it anyway. The bus drove off, while I sat on the peeling olive-green upholstery, taking deep breaths and trying not to think about what happened the other time I sat in the middle of the school bus.
It was last April, and for whatever reason I wasn’t sitting in the very first row, like usual. Chuck Boening and Jordan DiCecca suddenly sat down next to me, and I had been so excited, even though I had to press my body against the window to make room for them both.
It’s not like I was so excited because they are so hot, even though they are. It was just because they were talking to me, looking at me, like I was a real person. They were asking me what I was listening to on my iPod. They seemed genuinely interested. And I lost my head.
“I always see you with your headphones on,” Jordan said, leaning in close, and that was flattering, that anyone cared about me enough to recognize that I always did something.
“Yes,” I said, and did not elaborate that I always had my headphones on so I wouldn’t always have to hear the world around me.
“What are you listening to?” Chuck asked.
“The Cure,” I said.
Jordan nodded. “Oh, cool. I like them.”
And that was exciting, too, that this suntanned soccer champ and I liked the same eighties goth band. I believe that a person’s taste in music tells you a lot about them. In some cases, it tells you everything you need to know. I thought, in that moment, that if Jordan liked the Cure, then he wasn’t the cookie-cutter preppy boy I’d always assumed. And I imagined that he thought, in that moment, that if I liked the Cure, then I wasn’t the tragic loser he had always assumed. We were both more than our labels, and maybe we could be friends and go to concerts together.
So when Jordan went on to say, “Let me see,” I handed him my iPod.
Why? Why did I believe he had to see my iPod to know what I was listening to? I told you, it’s the Cure! You want to know more, I’ll tell you the title of the song! You want to know more, I’ll tell you how many minutes and seconds into it I am! But shouldn’t I have wondered why he needed to actually hold my iPod?
I handed it to him, and he grabbed it and ran off to the back of the bus with it, and with Chuck, and with everyone else on the bus cheering them on.
Was it really everyone else on the bus? Or was that just how I recalled it now, five months later? Some people on that bus must have had something else going on in their lives. Some girl must have recently broken up with her boyfriend. Someone must have been worrying about his bio test. Really, could every single person on that bus have just been caught up in the thrill of seeing my iPod stolen? Really?
It seemed like it, yes.
So what do you think I did? Did I go charging down the aisle of that bus, eyes ablaze, and demand that Jordan and Chuck return my iPod, because it did not belong to them, because they did not deserve to listen to the Cure under any circumstances, let alone under these? Did I use my righteous indignation to reclaim my iPod, and did I emerge from this struggle triumphant, with everyone else on the bus now cheering for me?
No. Instead, I let them run to the back of the bus with my iPod. I let them go. And then I leaned my head against the window and I cried.
Does this seem weak to you? Could you have done better? Fine, by all means, do better. But you don’t understand this: sometimes when you are worn down, day after day, relentlessly, with no reprieve for years piled on years, sometimes you lose everything but the ability to cry.
I got my iPod back eventually. I told my homeroom teacher, and she told the vice principal, Mr. Witt, and he made the boys return my iPod and write letters of apology. Mr. Witt also told the bus driver, who somehow didn’t know—or acted like he didn’t know—what had happened on his bus, captured in his rearview mirror. The bus driver was annoyed with me, because it was my fault he got in trouble, and he barked at me, “From now on, sit up front, where I can keep an eye on you.” Which I did for the last month and a half of freshman year.
So now, on the first day of sophomore year, when I sat near the middle of the bus—to the front of the middle, but still—I felt my whole body trembling, because I knew how big a risk I was taking. The knot in my stomach had tightened, and as the school bus rounded a corner, I seriously worried that I might throw up. Fortunately, I swallowed it down, which is good because vomiting on the first day of school is not cool. Also not cool is rocking back and forth as you sit in a school bus, breathing loudly, and wiping your sweaty palms on your new knockoff designer jeans. But even that is cooler than vomit.
Because my stop is one of the first on the bus’s route, nearly all the seats were empty. They filled up fast, though. New kids got on at every stop, shrieking with excitement over new haircuts, new book bags, new manicures. Chuck and Jordan and their crew were nowhere to be seen, thank God, which implied to me that either they had all been expelled or their families had been relocated to prison camps. Or they just knew someone who had gotten a license and a car.
You might think that the absence of the iPod thieves would have made this a delightful bus ride, but it wasn’t enough. My goal this year was not “see if I can get through a single hour without being tortured.” It was “be normal. Have a few friends. Be happy.”
I wanted someone to sit with me. I could even picture what she would be like. She would be cool, but casually cool. Artistic, with an embroidered shoulder bag and long, messy hair. Maybe she would wear glasses. She would see right through this horrible charade of high school.
But this imaginary girl did not sit down next to me. No one sat down next to me. The bus filled up, stop by stop, until eventually all the seats were taken and three girls were crowded together across the aisle from me, while I was still alone. We’re not allowed to sit three to a seat, and I hoped the bus driver would yell at one of them to move to the empty space next to me. Sometimes he yells about stuff like that. But he didn’t yell, and no one moved, and I sat alone the entire ride to school.
But that’s okay, right? It was early in the morning, remember. It was practically the middle of the night. Who wants to have long, involved conversations with new friends at that hour? No one.
The bus pulled up in front of Glendale High School, and everyone immediately began jostling to get off. You know, because school is just so amazing for them. They can’t wait to get off the bus so they can start passing notes and planning parties and making out with one another.
I got off the bus alone, and I went to homeroom alone, and I got my schedule for the year and didn’t compare it with anyone. The bell rang and I went to Spanish alone, and when the bell rang again I went to Geometry alone. And, again, “alone” is preferable to “molested,” but I wanted more this year. I had spent all summer gearing up for this, and I wanted more.
In American Lit, Amelia Kindl asked to borrow my pen. She used my name, too. She leaned over from the desk next to mine and whispered, “Hey, Elise, could I borrow a pen?”
I said, “Sure,” and smiled at her, because I read in a psychology study that people like you more when you smile.
She said, “Thanks,” and smiled back. Then we both turned our attention to the teacher, so it’s not like that was the beginning of a lengthy and fulfilling conversation, but it was something. It was an acknowledgment that I existed. If I didn’t exist, why would I have pens?
I liked Amelia. I always had, ever since I first met her, in middle school. She was smart but not nerdy, artistic but not weird, and friendly to everyone. Amelia wasn’t popular in the Lizzie Reardon sense of the word, but she had a core group of girl friends, and I imagined them having slumber parties every weekend, making popcorn and doing craft projects and watching movies. I would like to be someone like Amelia.
After American Lit, I made the mistake of passing Lizzie Reardon in the hallway. Last year I knew Lizzie’s entire schedule and would follow incredibly byzantine routes, or hide in the bathroom until I was late to class, just to avoid her. This was a new year, with new schedules, so there was no accounting for Lizzie yet. She could be anywhere. Like in the hallway between American Lit and Chem.
I stared straight in front of me, using the ostrich approach: If you can’t see her, she can’t see you. But Lizzie is more wily than an ostrich.
“Elise!” She got directly in front of my face. I tried to ignore her, to keep walking. “Elise!” she called out again, in a singsongy way. “Don’t be rude. I’m talking to you.”
I stopped walking and stood very still. That’s the rabbit approach: If you don’t move, she can’t see you.
Lizzie looked me up and down and then up again, to stare directly into my eyes as she said, “Wow, you look like a ghost. Did you go outside once this entire summer?”
This was not, by any stretch of imagination, the worst thing Lizzie had ever said to me. By some stretches of the imagination, this was the kindest thing she had ever said to me.
But it cut me, the same way Lizzie always knew how to cut me. I realized now that for every moment I had spent inside, watching popular movies and reading celebrity gossip blogs, I should have been outside, tanning. For everything I had done, there was something just as important that I had never thought to do.
Aloud I said nothing, and in a fit of mercy or boredom, Lizzie left me to go on to class.
Soon it was lunchtime. Still no one had directly addressed me, other than Lizzie, and Amelia, that time she asked for a pen. Maybe my clothes were wrong. Maybe my haircut was wrong. Maybe my headband was wrong.
Or maybe, I reasoned, everyone was still getting caught up from their summers apart. Maybe no one was thinking about making new friends yet.
I went to the cafeteria, which is easily the worst place in the entire world. Like the rest of Glendale High, the cafeteria is dirty, loud, and low-ceilinged. It has almost no windows. Presumably this is because they don’t want you to be able to look outside and remember that there is a real world that isn’t always like this.
I walked into that cafeteria clutching my brown-bag lunch so tightly that my knuckles turned white. I faced a room filled with people who either hated me or didn’t know who I was. Those are the only two options. If you know me, then you hate me.
But I was not going to be intimidated. I was not going to give up. This was a new year, I was a new girl, and I was going to use the next thirty-five minutes to make new friends.
I saw Amelia sitting at the same table as last year. She was one of ten shiny-haired girls, all in sweaters and no makeup. One of them took photos for the Glendale High Herald. A couple of them were in the school a cappella group. Another one of them always got to sit out gym class because she had a note saying that she did yoga three evenings each week. I felt like if anyone in this room could be my group of friends, it would be them.
So I put one foot in front of the other and, step by step, approached Amelia’s table. I stood there for a moment, towering over the seated girls. I forced myself to speak, for one of the first times since leaving home that morning. My voice came out squeaky, like a wheel in need of grease. “Would it be okay if I sat here?” is what I said.
All the girls at the table stopped what they were doing—stopped talking, stopped chewing, stopped wiping up spilled Diet Coke. No one said anything for a long moment.
“Sure,” Amelia said finally. Had she waited an instant longer, I would have dropped my lunch and fled. Instead, she and four of her friends scooched down, and I sat on the end of the bench next to them.
So it’s that easy, then? I thought, staring around the table. It’s that easy to make friends?
Of course it’s not that easy, you idiot. Nothing is that easy for you.
The girls immediately returned to their conversation, ignoring me. “Lisa swore she’d never been there before,” one of them said.
“Well, she was lying,” said another. “She’d been there with me.”
“Then why would she say she hadn’t?” countered the first girl.
“Because she’s Lisa,” explained a third girl.
“Remember that time she told us she’d hooked up with her stepbrother at that party?” said one of the girls. “At, um…”
“At Casey’s graduation party,” supplied another.
“Wait, you mean she didn’t?” the first girl asked.
“No,” they all groaned.
And I hung on their every word, and I laughed a beat after they laughed, and I rolled my eyes just as soon as they rolled their eyes—but I realized that somehow I hadn’t prepared for this situation. In all my studies of celebrities and fashion and pop stars, it had never occurred to me that my potential friends might just be talking about people I didn’t know and things I hadn’t done. And I couldn’t research that. That was just their lives.
The weight of this truth settled onto me until I felt like I was suffocating from it. How do you suddenly make friends with people? It’s ridiculous. They have years and years of shared memories and experiences. You can’t drop into that midway through and expect to know what’s going on. They wouldn’t have been able to explain it all to me if they had tried. And they weren’t trying.
The girl sitting across from me picked a bean sprout out of her front teeth and said something that sounded like, “We sent rappers to the gallows on Friday.”
I giggled, then stopped when she pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows at me.
“Sorry,” I said. “You just said … I mean, what are the gallows?”
People also like you more when you ask questions about them, by the way. They like it when you smile, and when you ask them to talk about themselves.
“The Gallos Prize for the best student-made documentary film,” the girl explained.
“Oh, I see. Cool. And what’s rappers?”
“Wrappers,” she said. “It’s my film about people who go to mummy conventions.”
The sheer amount of things I didn’t know about these girls, that they were never going to tell me, was overwhelming. It was like the time my mom and I went to Spain on vacation and I’d thought I knew how to communicate in Spanish because I’d studied it in school for three years, but I didn’t know. I didn’t know at all.
But you can see, can’t you, how these are the sorts of girls I would want to be friends with? If that were at all possible? They did things like film documentaries about mummy conventions! I wanted to do that, too!
Well, not that, per se. I didn’t know anything about filmmaking, and the idea of mummy conventions was honestly a little creepy to me. But I wanted to do stuff like that.
I was so caught up in trying to follow the conversation, in trying to look like I belonged, that I didn’t even notice that the lunch period was nearly over until everyone at the table touched her finger to her nose.
“You,” said a girl in a bright flowered scarf, pointing at me.
“Yes?” I said, smiling at her. Remember, smiling makes people like you more.
She looked directly into my eyes, and I felt that same excitement as when Jordan and Chuck had asked me what music I was listening to. Like, Hey, she’s looking at me! She sees me!
When will I learn that this feeling of excitement is not ever a good sign? That no one ever sees me?
“You,” she said again. “Clean up.”
Then the first bell rang, and everyone at the table stood up, together, and walked away, together, leaving all their soda cans and plastic bags and gobs of egg salad littering the table.
I stayed seated as the cafeteria emptied around me. Amelia hovered for one moment, letting her friends get a head start. “We always do that,” she said to me, her eyebrows pulled together with a little bit of worry. “You know, the last one to put her finger on her nose has to clean up. That’s our rule. So, today that was you.”
Amelia smiled at me apologetically, and I guess that study was right, because her smile did make me like her more. I could have said, That’s a messed-up rule. Or I could have said, But I didn’t know. Or I could have said, Do you honestly always do that? Or did you just do that to me? Or I could have said, Why don’t you stay and help me?
I could have said anything, but instead I said, “Okay.”
And Amelia walked away, and I started throwing eleven girls’ trash into the garbage can.
As I scooped up potato chip crumbs, I realized this, this most important truth: there are thousands, millions, countless rules like the one Amelia just told me. You have to touch your finger to your nose at the end of lunch. You have to wear shoes with this sort of heel. You have to do your homework on this sort of paper. You have to listen to this band. You have to sit in this certain way. There are so many rules that you don’t know, and no matter how much you study, you can’t learn them all. Your ignorance will betray you again and again.
Picking up soggy paper napkins, thick with milk, I realized, too: this year wasn’t going to be any different. I had worked so hard, wished so hard, for things to get better. But it hadn’t happened, and it wasn’t going to happen. I could buy new jeans, I could put on or take off a headband, but this was who I was. You think it’s so easy to change yourself, but it’s impossible.
So I decided on the next logical step: to kill myself.
Copyright © 2013 by Leila Sales
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is a tough review for me to write. First, let me say what I loved about the book. It was well written, interesting, and addictive. I couldn't put it down. I fell in love with Elise and her story and I just had to see how things turned out for her. I felt like she was a very believable character and I became very invested in her. I loved, loved, loved her interest in DJing and the way it affected her emotionally and socially. I really enjoyed the way she tries to make herself over to fit in with everyone else, only to have it backfire. Then she remakes herself over again, but the time, as herself. She discovers who she is and realizes that she's known it all along. The writing, the plot, and the characters are all fantastic. I love the cover. Brilliant, gorgeous cover. I want to make a poster out of it and hang it on my wall so I can look at it every day. So why 3 stars? Language. I was shocked at how many F-words (among other words) were in these pages. I kept thinking, good grief, this is a teen novel? The other reason was the sexual content. It's not overly detailed, and "it" doesn't technically happen, but I don't have a better word for what does happen. While I loved this book for many reasons, I still have to say that it contains too much adult content for me to recommend it to a teen audience. I would have doled out a whole-hearted 5 star rating if it hadn't been for the language and sexual content. Content: graphic language and sexual situations.
Actual rating of this book? Infinity stars. I’ve read a lot of contemporary YA novels, especially over this past summer, and I’ve loved most of them. Even in my late twenties, I find it easy to relate to the journeys that contemporary YA characters go through, as they struggle with finding their identity and their purpose, and the many other issues that come up in those pivotal years. But never have I come across one that has touched me so deeply as This Song Will Save Your Life. The synopsis barely touches the story held between this books pages. What sounds like your typical run of the mill, coming-of-age story is actually a powerful, deeply moving tale of overcoming the crushing hopelessness and loneliness that comes from feeling as if there is no place for yourself in this world by being brave enough to change and find your passion and realize that who you are is ENOUGH. As much as I loved this story, it was not an easy one for me to read. It was a brutally emotional experience. I laughed and cried and raged, both at Elise and at other characters on her behalf. I felt her loneliness and her triumphs as deeply as she did. More times than I could count I found myself having to set the book down just so I could get control of my own emotions. the second chapter in particular was the most brutal chapter I have ever read in my life. It was horrific in it’s honesty, and brought on many a painful flashback. Sales’ writing is stellar. The story moves at a perfect pace and the characters are well developed and interesting and 110% realistic, as are the events that guide Elise’s journey. Elise is a character I instantly connected with. So many of her thoughts, ideas, rationales and beliefs about herself and her life have passed through my head. At times being in her head was like reading one of my own diaries from my teenage years. I went through similar experiences of bullying in middle school, especially 7th and 8th grade, and throughout my freshman year of high school and it was so easy to understand her viewpoint on her classmates and the options she thinks she has. Kids are cruel and going through that kind of torment day in and day out is draining and eventually the hopelessness crushes you. But Elise is stronger than she realizes. She is smart and witty and her voice is refreshingly genuine. She’s also self-absorbed, naive and utterly oblivious to the truth of most things. As much as I loved, related, and wanted to protect her, there were just as many moments when I wanted to shake her and give her the much needed wake up call she doesn’t get til the ending. I adored most of the secondary characters as well. Elise’s family was great, although I do wish they had played a bigger role, especially her younger siblings. Her new friends, especially Vicky and Harry were a huge highlight for me and I immensely enjoyed every scene they were featured in. As for the love interest, Char? HATE. While I could understand his character, and the purpose of his character, it didn’t stop me from cringing every time he was mentioned, from the moment he is introduced to Elise. I recognized his type from the start because he’s the exact type of guy I’ve always found myself attracted to and so of course I wanted to protect Elise from him. He was an interesting character, and the story was stronger because of his presence, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to strangle him. Repeatedly. This is one of the stories that will effect every person who reads it differently. Not everyone will be able to relate to Elise’s circumstances, but I think they will be able to relate to her loneliness and being misunderstood. This Song Will Save Your Life is a well written story, with an engaging plot and well-developed, genuine characters that I strongly encourage you all to read.
I loved this book so much. As soon as i opened it and saw the lyrics to "Wonderwall" by Oaisis i knew tg,hat it was going to be great. I can honestly say that this is one of my favorite books ive read.
This is an inspiring story of a girl who grew up on the outside finally finding something to live for.
I really, really, really enjoyed this book. I like Elise. I get Elise. I didn't go through exactly what Elise did in school, but a lot of the time, I felt like she did. High school can be brutal, guys. Really, really brutal. If you don't fit in, then it's ten times worse. Elise's story is about her depression hitting an absolute low, and how she comes back from that. It's not pretty. In fact, a lot of times it's really, really messy. There are also really strong themes about cyberbullying. But throughout the whole thing, there is a glimmer of hope far away, even though Elise doesn't always recognize it. This is also a book about music. And it was hard to listen to this audiobook, because Leila Sales would mention an artist I didn't know, or a song I loved, and it would make me want to pause the book and switch over to iTunes. It's so clear that the author loves music just as much as Elise, and this love of music is just as central to the story as Elise finding herself. The story isn't perfect. Elise is a really negative person, and she does some mean things. She does some selfish things, and she hurts herself in more ways than one. She's a bit destructive, but not intentionally. She's so desperate to be loved, to be recognized... to belong that her choices are often poor. But she is real. She is flawed and there are consequences to her actions. I think that goes for every character in this book - you like them all in different ways, but they are absolutely human. My standout character was Vicki, whom I adored. She's this beautiful ball of positive energy, but then she shares her history and it breaks your heart a little. I've never been to a nightclub, because I'm completely vanilla and uncool, but I loved the world of Start. I liked the music choices!!! Why do clubs in movies only play electric or techno? If I knew they were going to play good music (lol, sorry) I'd probably had tried to seek them out more. Also, I loved Elise insecurity about dancing? 100% me. I feel like a fool, and I care, and it's weird. And while I know the world doesn't always end in happily even afters, and This Song Will Save Your Life doesn't exactly close with everything perfect, if closes with everything right. I thought the last chapter of the book was really good, because things worked out well enough. Truths were revealed, peace was made either with friends or that people aren't always who you want them to be. I would read another book in this world. Pippa's story, for example. I'd like to read Pippa's story. I don't think that This Song Will Save Your Life is going to be a good fit for everyone. I think that people will get frustrated with exactly how much Elise gets away with. Frustrated with her attitude. They may roll their eyes at Char's cliche or the inevitable explosions that Elise just ignores even though it's pretty obvious to see them coming. But I loved this book. It spoke to a part of me still hiding inside from high school that still wants to be seen, really seen, rather than failing to fit into a mold.
I empathize with Elise Dembowski.
Absolutely loved this audiobook. Elise was an interesting main character; I couldn't stop listening on my road trip, and then today to finish the last CD. The narrator was good, and the storyline kept me intrigued. I'd highly recommend this one. I loved most of the people from Start. I'll definitely be re-reading this one.
Leila Sale’s This Song Will Save Your Life is an uplifting read about a teenager named Elise Dembowski, who is trying to figure out how to fit in. It begins with Elise, a hardworking but socially awkward girl starting high school, who is determined that this year, she is going to become cool. Of course, her plans of transforming herself into a cookie-cutter mold of a popular teenage girl fails miserably, and she is left to deal with the aftermath. The story follows Elise’s journey of self-identity and individuality, while illustrating her experiences with bullies, family, friendship, love, and the power of music. This book is realistic fiction and an easy read. Although it’s relatively short, it is geared to ages between late middle school to high school. This is because Elise’s experiences require mature readers for them to be fully understood, but also, readers who fall between this age range can emphasize with Elise’s feelings. Sale depicts the struggles of being a teenager today. She shows how although being different is looked down upon, that difference makes one who they are, and that being different is beautiful. She also delves into the importance of music, and how it can bring people together and bring a sense peace and security for a person. She shows both the idealistic and cynical nature of teenagers, and the volatile emotions of that so often characterize young adults. Sale’s writing often weaves in humor, and the storyline itself is mostly sound. However, I found the ending to be a bit unrealistic and cliche, and the story seemed to drag on. In addition, I was unsatisfied with some plot points, such as Elise’s relationship with her stepdad. However, in the end, this book made me ponder the twisted view of being “cool” in today’s society, and the storyline overall was fresh despite the few holes. I would rate this book 4 stars. Ultimately, it is a wonderful book with an essential message about self-identity and conformity, and the plot line is original and engaging. Review by Lauren A., age 14, Lone Star Mensa
I love reading this book. I think the way that Leila describes a lot of things is good because some of the authors of the other books that I have read were not really good about describing. I love your writing Leila. I think you are the best author of a book that i have read out of all the books. And I am 13 years old, I have been reading for a while now. thank you for being an amazing author.
It is absolutly amazing
Black Veil Brides is best band ever!!
I really enjoyed this book and i think its a great story! There are points in the book where it does get a little boring. But overall I really liked the character development throughout the story, and i would definitely recommend for anyone who just wants a good book.
The first chapter made me want to go back to high school and hug everyone I know, just in case. The end made me cry twice. This book is really, really good, but more than anything, I'm just thrilled it exists.
I just got this book at the library yesterday and im on chapter five already! Its a great book if u urself just want to escape from everyone else(: makes u realize u are the way you are for a reason...great read &hearts
"You think it's so easy to change yourself. "You think it's so easy, but it's not." Elise Dembowski has tried countless times to make herself better. Less different. Less precocious. Every time it's been a horrible failure. It turns out trading in her unicorn boots for normal sneakers, researching pop culture online, and wearing a new headband on the first day of school isn't enough. Nothing is ever enough. Elise is ready to give up. She can't go on like this--the punchline of every joke, the obvious target for every bully. With friends it might be bearable. But making friends, it turns out, is just as hard as becoming cool. Then one magical night something finally does change when Elise wanders into a warehouse dance party. At the party Elise also finds people who accept her; not some mainstreamed version of herself, not the invisible version or the fake one. Just her. In the midst of the party and the magic Elise also finds something almost as important: DJing. With a chance at real friends and something that makes her truly happy, Elise might be able to change herself after all in This Song Will Save Your Life (2013) by Leila Sales. There is so much to love in this story. This Song Will Save Your Life is an obvious read for music fans. (Sales includes a partial playlist at the end of the novel.) Even at her lowest, Elise remains a proactive, sympathetic heroine. She is capable and, above all, Elise is very much herself. While Elise is the powerhouse center of this novel, This Song Will Save Your Life is also peppered with fully realized secondary characters including Elise's very modern, very blended family and the absolutely delightful Vicky. Sales' writing has a verve and spark here that makes Elise's story infinitely compelling. Throughout the story Elise's narrative remains sharp and very well-focused. Although she is troubled, Elise remains extremely self-aware and always questions outcomes throughout the story in a way that is both effective and refreshing. This Song Will Save Your Life is a smart, witty story filled with as much enthusiasm and energy as any dance party. Possible Pairings: Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Looking for Alaska by John Green, To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
Elise is strange. She's different. She doesn't have any friends, her social life is non-existent and she is alone. A whole new year, a whole new classmates and Elise is going to be a whole new girl! She is going to be popular, she is going to be able to go on dates with guys, and she will never be alone ever again!!! That is until something happens that will make her feel even more alone than ever. She decides to do something that most teens her age do when life knocks them down. She cuts herself. Not only that, she calls someone that she thought might help but only makes things worse....well in her eyes anyway. Thinking Elise is done with trying to fit in, has accepted the fact that she has no talents what-so-ever, she does the one thing that most teens her age don't do.....accept it and try to breathe. So every night Elise will get out her house, plug in her iPod and walk all through her town. Alone with her thoughts, and especially alone with her music, music that SHE enjoys and no one can bother her. Till one night she stumbles upon a underground dance club that accepts people that are just like her....people are think they are nothing become something while being in this club, dancers and singers together come and sing their hearts out at this club. Elise has finally found the one place where she might belong, maybe even show her true talents as a DJ at the club. Then the whole comes back showing her other trials that she must face. But with this new found sense of being, will Elise cower like before? Or will she stand up for what she believes in? A great book for teens who are going through bullying or having suicidal thoughts. A great book even for those that love music for this book has lots of great song selections that helps people in need find purpose again.
You opened. I'm glad. My name is Sara and I'm 16. I would like to talk to someone. Please respond to CSOANRNAER989. Or if u want just CS for short. I'll explain the weird long name if u chat with me.
Elise is friendless, she is lonely and an outsider in every possible social scenario. And when life couldn't look any less dead-end, she discovers the magic of music at a warehouse party. The opportunity to DJ there opens up a chance to experience life in a whole new way. Maybe Elise isn't lost yet... Elise is only sixteen and she's already part of the DJ and nightclub scene. I didn't think her too young to go out to the warehouse parties she's attending, playing music, meeting new people. Scoring a DJ job was functioning like a therapy and as much as you hurt with Elise for everything that's happened to her so far, you also see that there's a bright future ahead if she just keeps doing what she loves. Having no friends in school, no one to turn to, never feeling accepted or even being bullied are very relevant for Elise's story. Everyone of us can in some way relate to this young girl and her thoughts about life, friendship and love. She's searching for meaning, unconsciously wanting help and waiting for that one moment that finally points her in the right direction. Music is of high importance for Elise's story, too. It has soothing and healing qualities, is her best friend in the worst moments of her life. As much as the music and the fascinating new DJ job are drawing you into the story, Elise's love story with the local DJ, Char, does the same. But unless the strong music parts, the romance lost me somewhere on its way. So I suggest you start THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE with the desire to fall in love with Elise's music rather than her love interest. 4/5 **** THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE – Leila Sales' third book is equipped with the perfect tune to touch many readers' hearts with its musical magic. THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE is about Elise's favourite bands and songs and the music that influences her life. I'm not very into the music that she listens to. Reading about the power of the songs she plays, I know I have a lot of music education to make up for, starting with Elise's playlist now.
You can read all of my reviews on my blog, KDH Reviews. Maybe I expected more from a book with the title This Song Will Save Your Life, but I was a little disappointed. Not completely, but a little. Although Elise isn’t exactly a likeable character, she is easy to relate to. All she wants is to have friends. In this respect, she isn’t an overachiever. She doesn’t want to be popular (despite what the blurb says), but she wants friends. She wants to fit in somewhere. It’s a natural desire to want friends, people that understand you. In that way, she’s entirely relatable. But likeable? I’m not so sure. She felt judgmental and, indeed, stuck up. As someone that was a victim of bullying, you’d think she’d had a better idea of how to treat other people. Overall, I believe the book had a good message about finding yourself and accepting who you are. By the end, though, it fell flat for me. I don’t feel like it reached its full potential. I think I was looking for something a little bit deeper than what this book had to offer. I think it will be a hit for some and a miss for others.
I had just took time to write a review for this book because I absolutely adore it but something went wrong and my review just disappeared and I am way too lazy to rewrite it. So, I'm just going to tell you a short version of what I wrote. I didn't plan on checking out this book but I did and this book blew me away. I started the book today and finished it today. I really enjoyed the entire thing.. just everything about the story and the characters made me love it. Oh, also I read other reviews and apparently many people do not like Char. I don't see why but I absolutely loved him and the relationship he had with Elise. I kind of thought that the ending with this could have been better but it's all good. 10/10 (mostly). Would recommend!