This book is a whirlwind of emotion. It's got plenty of heart, a great voice, dry humor, real emotion, and a memorable main character. Leila Sales knows how to write a thoroughly compelling and totally flawed protagonist that still makes you sympathize and empathize with as she struggles to find a place in her world. A vast improvement on her fun but shallow Past Perfect, This Song Will Save Your Life takes a familiar YA plot and adds in originality and flair to create an engrossing, raw, heartfelt and impossible-to-put-down novel.
The depiction of Elise is the best thing about This Song Will Save Your Life. Hands down. She is so genuine and real, it's pretty much impossible to not recognize some aspect of yourself in her. I loved this character so very much, and Sales hit her difficult characterization with precision. Elise grows and learns and changes over the rather short course of the book, but it takes time, experience and thought to get Elise to where she needs to be. Her foibles and flaws make her all the more interesting (and compelling), and her humor keeps things light enough to keep this from being a total downer for the first half. Socially awkward, smart ("precocious"), Leila Sales nails what it is to be an outsider with no real place to fit in.
Besides Elise, the author packed This Song Will Save Your Life full of real, dimensional secondary characters. With the exception of the pack of mean girls at Elise's school (and also the only reason this is a 4.5 instead of a full 5-star rating), Sales imbues these characters with personality and problems. They are all so real - the mom's obsession with fairness? I get that. The friends Elise feels are not good enough? I loved that they were shown to be so much more than Elise had assumed. This book takes a lot of tropes and stands them on their heads and is so much better than its contemporaries for doing so. First loves aren't perfect. Mysterious aloof guys aren't always the ones you should be with.
This is a short book, and though I have so much love for it, I don't want to say too much and spoil the experience for other readers. Bullying plays a key part in the plot, but there is more to This Song Will Save Your Life and Elise herself than a simple story about being bullied and ostracized. It's about growing up, moving on, finding yourself and being okay. It's a wonderful novel and I hope it finds the wide audience it more than deserves.