Cover of This Song Will Save Your Life, with a girl wearing glasses and gold headphones

About the Book

Title: This Song Will Save Your Life
Published: 2013
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Cover Story: Montell Jordan
BFF Charm: Let Me Love You
Talky Talk: Straight Up
Bonus Factors: Underground Dance Club, Musical Education, Non-After School Special
Relationship Status: Dancing Queens

Content warning: This book features an attempted suicide.

Cover Story: Montell Jordan

GIF from Montell Jordan's music video "This Is How We Do It"

Damn, this cover is a knockout! Not only are those some sweet gold headphones, but they also stylishly communicate the main premise of the book. And the graphic design on this baby is LEGIT. I actually felt hip while reading this book in public which is…not something that usually happens with a YA cover.

The Deal:

To say that Elise Dembowski is unpopular would be an understatement. In the world of Mean Girls, she wouldn’t even sit at Janis and Damien’s table. If this was The Breakfast Club, she’d be Ally Sheedy without the eventual makeover. Even Rachel Leigh Cook had a friend in She’s All That, which is one more than Elise has, unless you count her dad. (And obviously, including parents on your friend list is the number one sign that you’re not cool.)

Cursed with the dreaded “weird” label, Elise has basically become invisible, except for the occasional moments when a popular kid needs an emotional punching bag. No matter what she does, she can’t seem to fit in, and eventually, she comes to the conclusion that the only option is suicide. Fortunately for Elise (and all of us), she botches the attempt to end her life. But it’s not until months later that she actually begins to feel alive again, thanks to her discovery of Start, an underground dance party in an abandoned warehouse. With help from the resident DJ, Char, Elise unleashes her musical passion on the turntables as her heart experiences the new beat of happiness. Soon, she’s a high school loser by day and the city’s hottest DJ by night, but even Elise doesn’t have the skills to keep her two worlds in sync, and it’s only a matter of time before they collide in a climactic cacophony.

BFF Charm: Let Me Love You

BFF charm with teary eyes hugging a heart

Screw the Cure, Elise. You are exactly the girl I always dreamed about, and I’m not letting this dream go. I think you’re AMAZING, and in many ways, you remind me of my nerdy YA self. I would say that you’re too smart for your own good, but I hate that phrase, because how can anyone be too smart? You’re wonderfully unique and thoughtful and, in spite of the way you’ve been treated by your so-called peers, you still maintain your compassion. It kills me when I think about how you’ve been abused by the cruelty of adolescence, but I’m here to tell you that it does get better. I mean, just wait until you get to college, girl. You will be the SHIZZ. Indie hipster boys will be trying to impress you with their music knowledge, and you will blow them OUT OF THE WATER and then be all KTHXBAI, G2G because you’ve got VIP seats at the Justice show.

But until then, just remember: I LOVE YOU!

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

During Elise’s first visit to Start, she catches the attention of Char, the reigning DJ of the club. He’s a little bit older and wiser, not to mention attractive, so he totally brings on, to quote Meg Cabot, the frisson. I mean, if you’ve ever been dancing at a club, you know how thrilling it can be when the DJ actually, like, pays attention to you instead of, say, ignoring your request for Missy Elliot even though HELLO Missy Elliot is OBVIOUSLY what this dance party needs and DON’T TELL ME YOU DON’T HAVE MISSY ELLIOT BECAUSE WHAT KIND OF DJ ARE YOU?

Anyway! You may be wondering why, if Char is so hot, the swoon score is so low, but since I’m not in the business of spoilers, you’ll have to read the book to find the answer.

Talky Talk: Straight Up

I swear, with each book, Leila Sales’ writing gets sharper and sharper. Her characters have always been layered, and she’s certainly got an instinct for dialogue, but this, her third novel, reaches a whole new level of emotion. Without ever resorting to melodrama, she slips you into the mind of a teenager desperate to belong to the very world that has crushed her. Elise’s voice immediately feels as familiar as the one in your head, and you’ll walk a mile in her shoes without ever considering the fact that your feet might be a different size. The arc of the story treads on dark ground, but Sales peppers the pages with her charming sense of humor, resulting in a novel that is wonderfully compelling from start to finish.

Bonus Factor: Underground Dance Club

Screenshot from Step Up 2 the Streets, with a crowd of people dancing

If you’ve ever been standing next to me when Usher’s “Yeah!” starts to play over the speakers at the club/bar/grocery store, you already know that I am a HUGE fan of dance parties. I’ll cut a rug in the car, in my living room, on the street, at my neighborhood Walgreen’s, WHEREVER. But a secret club? In an abandoned warehouse? With a no-nonsense bouncer named Mel? That is my IDEAL. (Although I could do without Cobrasnake Flash Tommy.)

Bonus Factor: Musical Education

Screenshot from High Fidelity, with the record store staff debating music

Opening this book is like walking into Championship Vinyl and getting schooled on all of the best music (except Elise is a lot nicer than Barry). Each chapter begins with a song lyric that is both relevant and awesome, and then there’s Elise and Char’s DJ set lists, which are absolute dance perfection. From Springsteen to Joy Division, Big Audio Dynamite to The Strokes, this book is a joyful celebration of music that is essential not just for our ears, but for our very souls.

Bonus Factor: Non-After School Special

Old ad for an After School Special with a red X over it

While Elise struggles with loneliness and depression, her story never deteriorates into an Issue Book. Sales skillfully handles critical adolescent issues in a way that never feels cliched or forced, and the authenticity of Elise’s experience resonates on a universal level while still striking a unique chord.

Relationship Status: Dancing Queens

I was in the mood for a dance, and when this book gave me the chance, we hit the floor together and let the beat fill our veins with electric energy. I never had any trouble following along, but with that said, this book busted some serious moves. Thanks to our emotional connection, as well as our shared love of music, we made great partners, and I got so wrapped up in the groove, I couldn’t believe it when the lights flickered on at 2:00 a.m. Thanks to this book, I danced, I jived, and I had the time of my life.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, but got neither money nor cocktails in exchange for this review.

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.