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When I was younger, music was such a huge part of my life, I really thought it would be a career or at least a hobby that would stick with me into my adult years. Starting at age seven, I learned piano. I sang in school, church, and community choirs. (In fact, my first date with Adam was after a community choir concert, and I frequently made him turn pages for me as I played weddings throughout high school and college.) I played saxophone. I was in color guard. I was percussion section leader and assistant drum major my senior year.
I really considered majoring in music, until I drove past Baird Hall at MSU and saw the percussionists outside hacking away at the concrete at midnight and decided I might not have that much time or dedication.
Anyway, I tell you all that to tell you this: I love music. Not in the way my students love music, which involves living with at least one headphone on at all times and shuffling through songs on Pandora. Not in the way my friends' husbands love music, which involves massive amounts of factual knowledge about bands and albums and biographical information about famous and obscure musicians. Not in the way my siblings love music, which involves spending money on tickets and live concerts. No, I love music in my own, soul-thumping, scream-singing, bass rattling, dancing around the house way.
I feel like the Internet has made us all music lovers. And maybe that's a great thing. I just wonder if absolutely everyone who "likes" to listen to music has the same emotional connection to it that I experience. When those first few bars of "Tonight, Tonight" by the Smashing Pumpkins alert me to an incoming call, my heart soars; not with the possibility of who is on the other end of the line, but because how could it not with lyrics like these?
Is never time at all.
You can never, ever leave
Without leaving a piece of youth
And our lives are forever changed.
We will never be the same.
The more you change, the less you feel.
Believe in me.
That life can change,
That you're not stuck in vain.
We're not the same, we're different
I mean, I have funeral songs picked out for myself. That can't be normal, right? (Is it the result of being raised in the kind of house where my mom told me her "funeral poem" when I was six? I guess the world will never know.)
I think it's part of what also makes me love literature and writing: the symbolism, the story-telling, the perfect expression of that which can never be fully and rightfully expressed, but for which we die still trying to explain.
This Song Will Save Your Life has reminded me of that part of myself that loves music because it's the poetry of our lives. While the plot itself is not entirely unpredictable (okay, it's pretty predictable), I am really happy that Leila Sales helped me reconnect with the music in my soul. I also think that this book could be a very positive influence on the lives of teenagers who feel misunderstood, who have a hard time imagining that in the very near future, their entire existences may change...and that the near future is worth continuing to live for.
You see, Elise Dembowski has struggled with her feelings of worthlessness, stemming from her ostracism throughout her entire school career, until she finally decides to reinvent herself. She spends the entire summer before sophomore year painstakingly studying how to fit in, even making flashcards of popular music and musicians so she can discuss pop culture without having to actually take part in consuming it. When it's obvious that her hard work is not going to pay off, she tries to kill herself.
The rest of the story takes place as Elise tries to navigate a life that depresses her to no end, where school is misery and her family doesn't really know what is going on in her head or her private life. A private life which includes sneaking out of the house every week to attend a warehouse party where she befriends an unlikely crew and discovers a passion for DJing.
It's cute, funny, and painfully honest. The interactions between the students are realistic and heart-breaking. The adults trying to deal with a suicidal teenager are the same. This book could prove a powerful story to teens who connect with Elise, as well as those who need to realize how they're inadvertently (because I have to believe they don't know what they're doing) punishing the Elises in their lives.
The book also comes with a suggested playlist. Because I'm learning to love Spotify, which is pretty easy to fall in love with, I made that playlist today. You're welcome. (You will need an account, I believe. But it's free, which I also love.)
So thanks, This Song Will Save Your Life, for reminding me of all the music there is to love in the world, and for telling teenagers a story that reminds us all of the many reasons life is worth living. I plan to keep doing more of it all...the singing, the dancing, the loving, and the living.
Have you ever read a book that might not have felt life-alteringly amazingly good, but that reminded you of something you'd lost along the way? And, more importantly, what did you do about it?
P.S. If Young Adult is not your thing and you're looking for an amazing book about music and life and love and loss and all the everything, read this book immediately.