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This Song Will Save Your Life
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
Themes & Topics
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.