Review: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Sunday 26 July 2015

Title: This Song Will Save Your Life
Author: Leila Sales 
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Publication Date: October 2013
Genre: Contemporary//Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★★
All her life, Elise Dembowski has been an outsider. Starting a new school, she dreams of fitting in at last – but when her best attempts at popularity fail, she almost gives up. Then she stumbles upon a secret warehouse party. There, at night, Elise can be a different person, making real friends, falling in love for the first time, and finding her true passion – DJ’ing.
But when her real and secret lives collide, she has to make a decision once and for all: just who is the real Elise?

Trigger warning - This novel also deals with some topics such as depression, suicide (attempt and thoughts) and low self-esteem issues.

In a nutshell: This was so good it gave me a book hangover.  Character development, a book with music in its spine, friendship, identity, and self-acceptance

I deserve to be here, No one can take my dance space away from me, I don’t care if anyone thinks I look stupid.

Elise stumbles upon an underground disco, named Start, which changes her life and throws her into learning curve. Elise is a character who grows. She grows throughout the novel as a character and she grows on the reader. In other words, the character development in this novel is strong. At the beginning of the novel, Elise is in a bad place- she’s bullied,  socially excluded, and  after her attempt to become popular fails, she becomes quite depressed - I felt a lot of sympathy for her. 

Often, when someone is in a bad place, they can become bitter and consequently seem a bit stuck up and annoying.  Elise comes across as a little annoying but she learns and evolves throughout the novel.  It’s quite understandable that she has become a little bitter, as no matter what she does she doesn’t get to where she wants to be. She’s obsessed with popularity and it’s quite understandable, considering her lack of friends and the relentless bullying she experiences; however her obsession with popularity is more of a desire for friends rather than popularity, as Elise later realises. Elise learns to accept herself, become more accepting of others and finds her passion for DJ’ing.  Ultimately, over the course of the novel she learns, evolves and grows as a character, a friend and a human being. She undergoes a journey of self-discovery and it’s beautiful to read. 

Identity, friendship and acceptance are overarching themes in this novel, which I really enjoyed and think a lot of people can relate to. Sales drives home a really uplifting messages about what it means to be yourself and self-acceptance- that how others label you, and who you are, are two very different things. Elise’s night life of DJ’ing and the new friendships she forms contrasts with the misery of her school life and she gradually has to come to terms with her self and accept that she is not defined by the labels others assign to her. 

One character who perfectly encapsulated this was Vicky. Vicky who made up the rule, ‘I deserve to be here, No one can take my dance space away from me, I don’t care if anyone thinks I look stupid,’ and sees herself as a rockstar despite her career as a musician not quite reaching that level yet. Vicky is a character unashamedly herself and such a positive influence in Elise’s life. Believing in yourself and your abilities is another positive statement Sales explores and a sentiment that is important for young people (and everyone else) to hear.

Sales also explores friendship and what it means to be a friend. Elise gradually learns that you don’t have to have everything single thing in common with someone to be friends, you just have to have something; whether that something is attending secret warehouse parties or just being unpopular and average together.  Elise makes real connections and friendships which are so heart-warming and exciting to read about.  Another definite stand out point of this novel was the romance. The romantic elements were very realistic, complex and a bit messy. For a young adult novel, I really appreciated this quite refreshing take on romantic relationships and their complexities.

Music is a really big part of this novel and I cannot express how much I loved this. If you’re a huge music fan this is definitely a novel to read.  There’s even a suggested listening list at the end of the novel.  Music is really appreciated throughout and it binds the story.   Start, and music bring people together for different reasons. Whether like Elise, they use music to escape their miserable life, or like Vicky, they feel truly themselves on the dance floor, everyone in this novel is brought together, in some way or another by music. Elise finds her passion for DJ’ing and even her Dad is a part time musician who works in a record store.  Music is everything, and music does save and transform Elise’s life.  

Sales writing is very simple but manages to convey a lot of emotion and the voice of Elise distinctively. For a novel that deals with some very heavy and serious topics, the simplicity of the writing and Elise’s voice allows these topics to be explored in an approachable and engaging way. 

Overall, the overarching message that I took from this novel – that you are not defined by the labels others assign you is such an important one and one that I think Sales expresses wonderfully. Elise is a character who grows and evolves this novel and delivers some great messages about hope, identity and friendship. This novel made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and left me with a book hangover. If you want a contemporary young adult novel with some uplifting sentiments and musical inclination, definitely pick this up! 

And finally, I will leave you with this quote:
‘You think it's so easy to change yourself. You think it's so easy, but it's not. True, things don't stay the same forever: couches are replaced, boys leave, you discover a song, your body becomes forever scarred. And with each of these moments you change and change again, your true self spinning, shifting positions-- but always at last it returns to you, like a dancer on the floor. Because throughout it all, you are still, always, you: beautiful and bruised, known and unknowable. And isn't that - just you – enough’ 


  1. I love your photo for this book, it is stunning, and so is your review. It's been a couple of years since I read this book, but it has stuck with me and your review perfectly encapsulates why. I loved Vicky and her philosophy, I try to take it both literally (your dance space is important and I reserve the right to require great room to dance like an idiot) but also in relation to life itself and sticking with being yourself, because there is no one better.

    Your review has seriously made me contemplate rereading which is always a good sign with any review, now if only I could remember where I last put my copy.

    1. Ah thank you so much! I'm so happy you liked my review! I'm the same with Vicky's philosophy and being yourself, I think it is a really important thing for people to hear and be reminded of. You should definitely reread when you get the chance! I can definitely see myself rereading this book and getting the same warm and fuzzy feeling from it!