Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

I am kind of ambivalent about this book. Based on the premise, I thought it would be a replica of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but it turned out to not really be at all, which was good I guess. At the same time, it didn't strike me as all that original either. All the references to the awesomeness of bands like The Smiths and The Clash kind of made me cringe, to be honest. I like those bands too, but it just got to feel a bit pretentious/name-droppy for the narrator to constantly go on about her superior taste in music and how liking The Smiths instead of something like Rihanna inherently makes her this incredibly deep person. I guess I've known one too many arrogant indie music snobs in my day and at this point I pretty much roll my eyes whenever someone starts spasming about the transcendent glory of The Smiths. We get it. You're a raging hipster.

That said, I guess I should be more lenient with Elise, as she's only 16. I am sure I said plenty of snobby and pretentious things about music when I was that age.

I could really relate to the character of Elise, up to a point. I was pulled in right from the first pages, as Elise reminisces about her long history of uncoolness:
I've gone to school with the same kids since kindergarten. And they knew what I was long before I did. I was uncool by fourth grade. How is it even possible to be an uncool fourth grader?
I so get this. I remember it dawning on me somewhere in the middle of fourth grade that most girls were no longer wearing the decorative floral leggings that I sported on most days, and that that meant something. They had made the switch to denim, seamlessly, and I was just this big dork wearing whatever flowery leggings and matching sweater my mom laid out the night before. Until then I had never thought about whether my clothes were "cool" or not, and I can still vividly recall the eureka moment when it first occurred to me that what you wear = fashion and decorative leggings = dorky. It was similar to the shock and horror I experienced on the first day of sixth grade, when all the girls suddenly showed up wearing mascara and thick layers of foundation. I thought I must have missed a memo. No one wore makeup in 5th grade...how did they all know to suddenly start doing it in sixth???

So I thought that part of it was really well done and relatable. Where it began to break down for me was with all the vicious bullying Elise experienced. I know teenagers can be cruel, but as a fairly dorky high schooler I have zero memory of being abused by the popular kids. There was a girl who bullied me a bit in elementary school, but by the time we got to high school, the popular kids pretty much just ignored me, leaving me to hang out in peace with my marching band friends. So it seemed a bit jarring to me that popular kids would go so far out of their way to constantly bully Elise, even stealing her ipod and creating a fake blog making fun of what a giant loser she was. The popular kids I knew at that age would have never wasted their time on such endeavors.

Maybe I am looking back on my own experience with rose-tinted glasses though. I stumbled across this horrifying article in the Daily Mail (I know, I know) today about a disabled girl who has been a victim of some of the worst bullying I've ever seen (death and rape threats from her "popular" classmates). If you don't want your day ruined, do not read this. Anyway it made me think that maybe the bullying described in this book is actually not so unrealistic and over the top. Woof. What sick world do we live in anyway??

Bullying aside, I was annoyed by a certain horrible action that Elise took towards the end of the book. I won't give it away here, but it was really, really bad, and just seemed out of character for her. I honestly felt like the author was manipulating Elise's character for the sake of the plot--it just didn't feel genuine.

Another thing that felt contrived was how no one would believe Elise when she told them she was not the author of the blog purporting to be by her. This seemed so painfully obvious to me. The entries are so over the top self-deprecating that I cannot believe no one suspected Elise might be telling the truth about not being the author. I just really didn't buy it.

Also, her supposed shock at Pippa getting mad at her upon finding out that she has been enjoying romantic trysts with Pippa's former lover? Did not buy that at all. Elise tells us she spent an entire summer reading issues of Seventeen and yet we're supposed to believe she somehow failed to comprehend the cardinal rule of don't go for a dude that your friend has the hots for unless you want some major drama?

Anyway, onto the good stuff. I enjoyed the romance aspect of the book. Elise starts hooking up with this DJ ("Char," short for "This Charming Man," a Smiths song, naturally) who is CLEARLY a tool with major issues and no intention of committing to an actual relationship. But she doesn't let herself get too swept away in it, and it never becomes the focal point of the book, thank God. I found that whole story line to be very believable and interesting, even if it felt like watching a train wreck in slow motion. And I like how the author resolved it.

I also enjoyed the writing. There were several laugh out loud moments, such as this episode of dark humor that occurs towards the beginning of the book as Elise is contemplating suicide:
So I made a long playlist of songs that I thought I wouldn't mind dying to. It wasn't like making a road-trip playlist or a running playlist--I had never killed myself before, so I had no idea what I would want to listen to when it was too late for me to skip to the next song. Like, maybe when you're dying you actually want to hear something really upbeat. Maybe when the moment came, I'd want to die to ABBA.
Lololol. Maybe!

I think a solid 3.5 stars for this one...would have been higher but for the grating name dropping and the few parts of the story that felt contrived.




8 comments:

  1. Ok, I have to admit that I was chuckling when I read this review. The whole 4th grade leggings and then everyone knowing to wear make-up in 6th grade...hilarious.

    Your review is the first sort of negative review I've read (book blogging wise), but it sounds like I would have some of the same issues. I read a book recently where the MC was so snobby about her clothes, style, etc. and she looked down on everyone else because they shopped at the mall and bought "normal" clothes and she was just not a likable character because of that (she just thought she was so much better than everyone else and this MC thinking the same way about music would probably annoy me too). I'll probably still read it, but good to know going in. Thanks for the honest review! ~Pam

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  2. Glad you enjoyed my review :-)

    I definitely think you should still read the book. I found more to like than dislike in it and the things that bothered me prob won't bother a lot of people!

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  3. I agree that my high school experience was that the popular kids just mostly left the "uncool" kids alone, but I do know that there is real bullying that goes on out there, so maybe we were just lucky! The fact that no one would believe her about the blog would probably irk me too, though. I definitely still want to read this book, but thanks for giving your honest opinion so I will be ready for some of its flaws!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. Unfortunately, I think you are exactly right. I think we were lucky. I am so thankful I went to high school before the explosion of Facebook and social media (FB was invented my sophomore year of college). I really think social media makes bullying so much worse.

      And you definitely still should read the book. I can be kind of harsh sometimes but 3.5 stars is not a bad rating at all - I enjoyed reading this and it's definitely above average for these types of books. I hope you like it!

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