This Song Will Save Your Life

Edgy story of bullied teen girl driven by music.

What parents need to know

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

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.

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.

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Leila Sales
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Friendship, High school, Misfits and underdogs, Music and sing-along
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:September 17, 2013
Number of pages:288
Available on:Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of This Song Will Save Your Life was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 13 years old Written byLivHappy April 14, 2015
age 14+

Great Book!

Even though it is a little mature for younger readers I thought it had a great message to it.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Digital Compass