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Listen and You’ll Understand

Michelle Falkoff’s Playlist for the Dead might involve the aftermath of a suicide, but it’s more about how people learn to come to terms with it than the why of it all.

Listen and You’ll Understand

BOOK REPORT for Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

Cover Story: So Close
BFF Charm: Be Mine
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Realistic Friction
Bonus Factor: Geeks
Relationship Status: Make Me a Mix

Cover Story: So Close

I’m a big fan of the illustrated covers, and this book definitely has one of those. The typeface is cool, and the blue background is soothing. I like the earbuds as art element, too; reminds me a bit of the headphones as art element on the cover of Eleanor & Park. It’s so close to being Montell Jordan-worthy, but it’s not quite there for me.

The Deal:

Sam’s best friend Hayden dragged him to a party one Friday night, but wouldn’t tell him why they were going. Sam couldn’t figure why he wanted to go; the two weren’t really the type of guys who went to parties at the rich kids’ houses, even though Hayden’s brother was one of that crowd. The two boys would, usually, spend their evenings online playing Mage Warfare, an online roleplaying game in which they could lose themselves for hours. But this night was different, and Hayden seemed oddly excited to go.

Little did Sam know that Hayden’s excitement would soon be overshadowed by a series of unfortunate events at the party. And little did Sam know that these events would be the last straw for Hayden, a boy who’d spent much of his life being bullied.

When Sam arrives the following morning to make nice with his best friend—his only friend—rather than finding Hayden ready to make up, he finds an empty bottle of vodka, an empty bottle of Valium, and a playlist Hayden made that’s supposed to help Sam understand.

BFF Charm: Be Mine

Although the introduction to Sam, and by proxy Hayden, is pretty jarring, by reading about his journey to understand Hayden’s suicide, you learn a lot about the character. He’s a shy kid, and super geeky—he and Hayden spent much of their time online gaming or discussing comics in the local comic book store—but way more than “just a nerd.” He’s interested in indie music, and likes to learn even outside of school. Basically, my high school self’s dream guy.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

For the five years Sam’s lived in the smallish town of Libertyville, Iowa, he and Hayden have been each other’s only friend. Or so Sam thought. Through his quest to understand his friend’s suicide, Sam begins branching out, and even finds a ladyfriend. At first, Sam is hesitant to make these new relationships—he’s afraid that it looks like he’s immediately replacing Hayden—but he slowly gives in to the fact that he does need friends, particularly at such a hard time in his life. He even grows closer to the lady, but nothing’s ever easy when it comes to high school relationships.

Talky Talk: Realistic Friction

In Playlist for the Dead, Michelle Falkoff mixes past and present to both tell the story of Hayden and Sam’s friendship and let readers follow along as Sam tries to figure out why Hayden committed suicide. The past is revealed as Sam listens to the playlist Hayden left for him with the note “For Sam—Listen and you’ll understand,” but the various memories the songs bring up are not always helpful to Sam’s quest. For most of the story, Sam is confused, and trying to come to terms with the loss of his best friend. Although I’ve never been in his position, his emotions—which ranged from annoyed to sad to angry to tentatively happy—were both believable and appropriate for the situation. Kudos to Falkoff for creating a boy protagonist whose character and growth throughout the novel feels so real.

Bonus Factor: Geeks

I’m not sure if this has come across well through my posts (kidding), but I am a huge nerd. And a book in which the main character extolls the virtues of Star Trek: The Next Generation and talks about his friend who lives in a room covered with Star Wars paraphernalia immediately makes me connect and take more interest in the characters than, say, were they cheerleaders who liked to watch reality TV. (No offense meant, to any cheerleaders who like reality TV, but that’s not quite my wheelhouse.) I did, however, scoff ( looking at my multi-shelf Star Wars display) when Sam offhandedly mentions that no girl would be caught dead in a room full of Star Wars stuff, but through getting to know the characters, I can understand why Falkoff might have written about a boy that found it hard to believe that nerd girls exist.

Casting Call:

Andrew Garfield as Sam

Relationship Status: Make Me a Mix

Oh, Book. You weren’t the easiest thing to read. Your story of a bullied youth who found no other option than taking his own life made me terribly sad, but the story of the other boy who grew wiser and stronger because of the horrible tragedy made my heart heal a bit. I’d be willing to sit and listen to sad songs with you any time, and when you feel up to moving toward happier music, I’ll be there too.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from HarperTeen. I received neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Playlist for the Dead will be available Jan. 27.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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