This Song Will Save Your Life

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
This Song Will Save Your Life Book Poster Image
Edgy story of bullied teen girl driven by music.

Parents say

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the effects of bullying. How do our words affect people over time? How do kids allow themselves to be defined by what people call them?

Positive Messages

Elise learns that she needs to reach out to people and engage in the world around her if she's to overcome her loneliness. When she pursues what she loves, happiness and friendship follow.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The teen characters in This Song Can Save Your Life are a mixed bag as role models, but overall they're realistically depicted. Elise encounters kids who are cruel to her and kids who care about her. Elise's divorced parents are depicted as caring, capable of setting limits, and having her best interests in mind. A teacher whom Elise thinks doesn't notice her expresses concern when Elise's behavior at school changes. One adult in her life is a club bouncer who lets her in to a club, well knowing she is underage. A club promoter talks business with Elise, also knowing she's underage. These last two characters keep an eye on Elise and treat her fairly, but they're also breaking the law.


One character attempts suicide, which is described graphically. Many characters are mean. One scene depicts a man taking advantage of a drunk young woman who's incapable of giving or denying consent, but he's discovered and chastised by another character before he can go too far.


Sexual situations are discussed and include graphic terms for sexual acts. Descriptions of making out. Underage characters involved in naked make-out sessions that go right to the brink of sex.


Some strong language, including "bitch," "blow job," "goddamn," and "s--tstorm." A character directs hateful language at herself. A male character calls a girl a "lesbo" to her face.


Kate Spade, Target, Old Navy, Gucci, iPod, Marie Claire, and Seventeen.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A few of the teen characters drink while they're out clubbing. One is depicted as possibly having a drinking problem and drinks to the point of passing out. One character smokes. One adult character had a drinking and drug problem but has successfully been clean for years.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that This Song Will Save Your Life is a coming-of-age novel that deals with the heartbreak of being a lonely, ostracized, and bullied teen girl. Protagonist Elise Dembowski takes refuge in music and long late-night walks, both of which lead her to a new, exciting, secret life, transforming her view of herself and her relationship to the people in her life. The novel depicts underage drinking, smoking, sneaking out at night, lying to parents, bullying, and some violence. One character attempts suicide, which is described graphically. A man takes advantage of a drunk young woman but is discovered and chastised by another character before he can go too far. There's some strong language ("bitch," "blow job," "goddamn it," and "s--tstorm"), and sex is sometimes discussed in graphic terms. There are descriptions of making out. Underage characters have naked make-out sessions that go right to the brink of sex.

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written bytayleeparish2001 October 4, 2016

Good Book

I think if you don't like stories about alcohol drugs and sex this book isn't right for you but if your mature and over the age of 15 I think you will... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byKatelyn.michelle14 September 2, 2016

Please make a sequal to this book!!!!

This book is amazing. Just got in on the 8/30/16 and already finished today 9/2/16. This book would be amazing if they had a sequal to it.

What's the story?

Elise Dembowski is a smart teen with a passion for punk, indie, and classic rock. She's an outsider with her peers, who've ruthlessly tormented her throughout her school years. During the summer between her freshman and sophomore years of high school, Elise decides to change her personal style and reads up on pop culture, hoping to fit in better and connect with the other kids at her school. Her attempt fails miserably, causing Elise to hit rock bottom emotionally. A traumatic event pushes her even further to the social edges of her clique-ruled high school. To clear her mind, Elise starts taking long walks at night after her family has gone to bed. One such walk leads her to an underground nightclub, where she makes friends and is free of the daily torment of high school. Elise discovers that her love and knowledge of music, coupled with her skills at reading the behavior of groups, give her the perfect skills for becoming a club DJ.

Is it any good?

THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE has a relatable and engaging protagonist in Elise Dembowski. Her voice as a narrator is funny and honest, but the blithe delivery of her story belies the seriousness of the situations she encounters and the depth of her self-loathing. Author Leila Sales expertly captures the interior monologue of a teen girl, and Elise is well drawn as a bright introvert who has many ideas and feelings but few people to share them with. Her self-pitying, judgmental nature, and poor decisions grate, but perhaps that's the point: Teens can be infuriating. Most of Sales' other characters are one-dimensional.

Although much of the plot is fairly predictable, Sales keeps the story percolating. The book's ultimate message, that if you pursue what you love you'll find happiness, is a good one and is well delivered.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the role image plays in the way Elise sees herself and the other teens. Do you make assumptions about others based on what they wear or what music they listen to?

  • Do you find the depiction of teens and high-school social life realistic in This Song Can Change Your Life

  • What kind of playlist would you create to reflect your life and moods?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age-stories

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